Orange County’s coronavirus case rates and hospitalizations kept a steady pace up this week with patient levels exceeding the summer wave and not seen since mid-February, 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 299 patients as of Nov. 30, and that number has climbed to 388 as of Wednesday. The number of patients in intensive care have mirrored the same trend with the number climbing from 38 to 48.

“The hospitalization numbers are back to February levels and that is portentous,” said Andrew Noymer, an epidemiologist and UC Irvine professor of population health and disease prevention. “It speaks for itself that we’re back to levels not seen since last winter, the tail end of the Omicron wave, and we’re heading into another winter wave.”

As Los Angeles County is weighing another indoor mask mandate, Noymer recommended masking up in Orange County.

“The best thing people can do is mask in indoor spaces like the mall or the grocery store,” Noymer said. “I really urge people to mask when they do their Christmas shopping. Christmas will be more fun if people aren’t sick.”

The peak of this summer’s wave was on July 2 when there were 350 patients, Noymer noted.

“Next week, I predict we’ll be back up to January levels or early February levels. The point is we’re moving in the wrong direction.”

Noymer noted there has also been a corresponding uptick in RSV and flu illnesses as well that are burdening hospital staffs.

“Nobody knows how long that will persist but RSV impacts children’s hospitals and children’s hospitals have been sending some patients to adult hospitals,” Noymer said. “It looks like RSV may have peaked, which is good, because we only so much we can take at a specific time.”

It’s difficult to say whether the level of COVID-19 patients will exceed last year’s winter wave, but this year hospitals are dealing with a national trend of nursing staff shortages, Noymer said.

“I think there are staffing shortages affecting Orange County, too,” Noymer said.

“We’re also in a situation in which there’s a shocking low number of people who have taken the bivalent (Omicron) booster,” Noymer said.

And many others received vaccines so long ago they may not provide enough protection to prevent serious illness, he added.

The number of residents fully vaccinated increased from 2,359,862 to 2,360,871. The number of residents who have received at least one dose is 219,228. The number of booster shots administered increased from 1,421,959 to 1,425,506.

The number of children up to 4 years old who have received at least one dose inched up from 16,517 to 16,779, with 9,809 fully vaccinated. Just 5.3% of the county’s population in the age group is fully vaccinated.

For 5- to 11-year-old children, 97,120 are fully vaccinated, about 36.7% of the age group. In the 12-to-17 age group, 69.7% are fully vaccinated.

The test positivity rate went from 8.6% last week to 13%, and increased from 8.3% to 13.4% in the health equity quartile, which measures the communities hardest hit by the pandemic.

The daily case rate per 100,000 increased from 9.1 to 13.4 on a seven-day average with a seven-day lag, and jumped up from 9.4 to 14.5 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, 65.4% are incompletely vaccinated or unvaccinated and 66.6% of the COVID-19 patients in intensive care units are incompletely vaccinated or unvaccinated, the agency said.

The county logged 4,449 new cases of COVID-19, hiking the cumulative to 687,334. Seventeen more fatalities were logged, hiking the overall death toll to 7,594.

Nine of the fatalities occurred this month, increasing November’s death toll to 24. Four of the deaths occurred in October, increasing that month’s death toll to 66. Two fatalities occurred in September, raising that month’s death toll to 76. One occurred in June and another was in July.

The positivity rate for those fully vaccinated with a booster went from 11 to 16 on Dec. 4. For those vaccinated with no booster, the rate went from 5% to 8%. For those not vaccinated the rate went from 24.6% to 42.2%.

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