Orange County’s coronavirus case rates and hospitalizations continued an upswing, corresponding with an expected winter wave that has occurred in prior years, according to data released Thursday by the Orange County Health Care Agency.
Hospitalizations of COVID-19-infected patients have been on a steady rise since Nov. 11, when there were 105 patients. There were 222 patients as of Nov. 23 and 299 as of Wednesday. The number of patients in intensive care have mirrored the same trend with the number climbing from 16 on Nov. 12 to 38 as of Wednesday. There were 32 ICU patients as of Nov. 23.
“That’s the second straight precipitous increase,” said Andrew Noymer, an epidemiologist and UC Irvine professor of population health and disease prevention, referring to last week’s jump up in patients.
“And the ICU has gone up too, but more modestly,” Noymer told City News Service. “The hospitalizations are back to summer levels, so it will be interesting to see where they go. It will exceed summer levels, but probably won’t get to last year’s Omicron-driven levels.”
A year ago at this time, there were 189 patients hospitalized with a COVID-19 infection, but by Christmas, the levels were where they are now. Throughout the pandemic, there have been summer and winter waves with each wave smaller than the last corresponding wave.
“I firmly predict an increase in hospitalizations, but I’m not willing to say it will be just like last year,” as the new Omicron variant took root, Noymer said.
A new variant of Omicron, known as Omicron BQ, could be behind the most recent wave. It appears to be supplanting Omicron BA.5, according to Orange County Health Care Agency data.
Noymer said it is unclear how repeat infections of COVID-19 affect the general public long-term, but he encouraged avoiding it.
“We honestly don’t have a lot of hard data on it, but until we find out more, I’d be really wary of letting myself get infected multiple times,” Noymer said.
COVID-19 is not just an upper respiratory virus, but also has an impact on the circulatory system, so that can increase the risk of stroke and neurological issues, Noymer said.
“We’re seeing all these people with weird sudden deaths — there’s stroke issues, clotting issues,” Noymer said. “We really honestly don’t have a complete handle on all the deleterious effects COVID has had. I can’t quantify getting it three times does this, but I personally would avoid stacking up multiple infections of this virus.”
Noymer encourages residents to wear a mask when indoors, especially when visiting a grocery store or other crowded businesses.
As for the wave of RSV and influenza cases that have Children’s Hospital of Orange County to scramble for bed spaces and medicine, Noymer said the levels aren’t unprecedented.
“Part of the RSV story is hospitals are understaffed,” Noymer said. “The numbers are not that unusual.”
What is unusual is the timing, because children’s hospitals experience a wave this high in the upper respiratory viruses in January and February, Noymer said.
“I don’t know what’s causing this unusual timing,” he said. “The numbers aren’t that too severe or crazy high. It’s just it usually peaks in January, February/ … It remains to be seen what it will do.”
The Orange County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday extended its emergency declaration another month to help CHOC officials access medications that are in short supply and to utilize space elsewhere in the hospital for extra beds.
The test positivity rate went from 6.8% last week to 8.6%, and increased from 6.8% to 8.3% in the health equity quartile, which measures the communities hardest hit by the pandemic.
The daily case rate per 100,000 increased from 6.7 to 9.1 on a seven-day average with a seven-day lag, and jumped up from 6.8 to 9.4 in the adjusted daily case rate per 100,000 on a seven-day average with a seven-day lag.
The OCHCA reports COVID data every Thursday.
Of those hospitalized, 68% are incompletely vaccinated or unvaccinated and 68.4% of the COVID-19 patients in intensive care units are incompletely vaccinated or unvaccinated, the agency said.
The county logged 3,690 new cases of COVID-19, hiking the cumulative to 682,885. Six more fatalities were logged, hiking the overall death toll to 7,577.
Two of the fatalities occurred this month, increasing November’s death toll to 15. Three of the deaths occurred in October, increasing that month’s death toll to 62. One fatality occurred in September, raising that month’s death toll to 74.
The positivity rate for those fully vaccinated with a booster went from 10.5 on Nov. 20 to 9.7 on Nov. 27.For those vaccinated with no booster, the rate went from 5.9% to 4.5%. For those not vaccinated the rate went from 9.8% to 24.5%.
The number of residents fully vaccinated increased from 2,359,233 to 2,359,862. The number of residents who have received at least one dose is 218,379. The number of booster shots administered increased from 1,418,753 to 1,421,959.
The number of children up to 4 years old who have received at least one dose inched up from 16,358 to 16,517, with 9,489 fully vaccinated. Just 5.1% of the county’s population in the age group is fully vaccinated.
For 5- to 11-year-old children, 97,070 are fully vaccinated, about 36.6% of the age group. In the 12-to-17 age group, 69.7% are fully vaccinated.