Orange County’s COVID-19 hospitalizations and positivity rates have continued a downward trend just as new Omicron variant-targeted vaccines are set to roll out, according to the latest figures released by the Orange County Health Care Agency.

The number of patients hospitalized with COVID-19 dropped from 220 as of Monday to 206 as of Thursday, with the number of patients in intensive care inching up from 25 to 28. The county has 24.9% of its ICU beds available, above the level of 20% when officials grow concerned.

Of the patients hospitalized, 69.4% are incompletely vaccinated or unvaccinated. The rate is at 70.2% in the ICU.

“The Orange County numbers are looking good,” Andrew Noymer, an epidemiologist and UC Irvine professor of population health and disease prevention, told City News Service Friday. “The deaths are slowing down and the testing positive percentage.”

The county’s test positivity rate dropped from 12.4% Monday to 11.2% Thursday, and dropped from 14.2% to 12.9% in the health equity quartile, which measures the communities hardest hit by the pandemic, according to the agency.

“I’d like to see it below 10,” Noymer said.

It is difficult to determine how many patients were admitted directly for COVID-19 from those who tested positive after admittance for some other ailment, but from Aug. 1 to Aug. 25, 71 patients were admitted directly for COVID-19 who were incompletely or unvaccinated, 60 had received booster shots and 33 completed the primary series of two shots, according to the OC HCA.

The county logged 1,327 more infections, raising the cumulative figure since the pandemic began to 660,115. The county also logged seven more fatalities, raising its cumulative death toll to 7,357.

Of those fatalities, six occurred in August, increasing last month’s death toll to 65. The seventh happened in July, increasing that month’s death toll to 118.

The last month the count had more than 100 deaths was in February when 347 died.

The OCHCA provides regular COVID updates on Tuesdays and Fridays.

The county’s daily case rate per 100,000 people decreased from 16.9 to 15.4 on a seven-day average with a seven-day lag, and from 17.4 to 15.8 for the adjusted rate, also with a seven-day average and seven-day lag.

The seven-day case rate per 100,000 for fully vaccinated residents who received a booster went from 18.4 on Aug. 21 to 13 on Aug. 28. The rate for those fully vaccinated with no booster went from 11.5 to 7.9, and from 21.9 to 15.8 for not fully vaccinated residents.

Noymer encouraged residents to get the newly approved Omicron variant vaccines. But residents should make sure when they make an appointment that they are receiving the new vaccine for the Omicron variant and not the older booster.

“With the new one so imminently available nobody should be getting the old school one,” Noymer said.

Anyone who has received a booster shot should wait at least eight weeks before getting the new booster, Noymer said.

It is unclear how effective the new vaccine will be on the Omicron variant, Noymer said.

“It’s basically a situation like the flu shot,” Noymer said. “The flu shot comes out every year and we don’t know about that either like until the spring when we can do our best to sort it out.”

The new vaccine is designed to combat the BA.5 variant.

“We don’t know if there’s going to be a new variant that’s a game changer for the worse,” Noymer said. “My advice is get it. My analysis is it remains to be seen how many will take that advice, and it’s partly because people have become skeptical of vaccines, including when they were told the breakthrough cases were rare and that’s laughable. Then there’s the whole vaxxed-and-relaxed crowd, which is split down two camps. There’s the people who are really done with the pandemic and are just like you told me to get vaccinated and now I’m going on with my life. But there are also people in public health — doctors on TV saying you have a vaccine now so everything’s hunky dory. There’s been a cacophony of different voices about vaccines and a lot of people don’t understand what to make of it.”

The number of residents fully vaccinated increased from 2,343,538 last week to 2,345,356 Tuesday, according to the OC HCA. The number of residents who have received at least one dose was at 207,414. The number of booster shots administered rose from 1,372,534 to 1,375,422.

The number of children up to 4 years old, who have received at least one dose stands at 8,738 with 3,152 fully vaccinated, which represents just 6% of the county’s population in the age group.

For 5- to 11-year-old children, 95,465 are fully vaccinated, about 41% in that age group. In the 12-to-17 age group, 76% are fully vaccinated.

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