Covid-19 Rapid Test
Photo by Clancy O'Dessky for MyNewsLA.com

While officials have announced Orange County’s move into the “high” level of COVID-19 transmission in its latest data, an epidemiologist said there are signs COVID-19 hospitalizations may have leveled off.

“Hospitalizations and ICU is about the same” as last week, Andrew Noymer, a UC Irvine professor of population health and disease prevention, told City News Service. “Test positivity is still pretty high, so there’s COVID out there. There’s no doubt. But hospitalization seems to have plateaued. Even including incidentals the hospitalizations this time last year was rising like crazy, so this is frankly good news.”

Noymer, however, cautioned residents to be careful.

“I still would absolutely test before holiday gatherings,” Noymer said.

Orange County Health Care Agency officials also encouraged residents to get up to date on vaccinations for flu and COVID-19. Officials especially encouraged vaccinated residents to get the new bivalent booster, which is designed to combat the Omicron variant.

“With the expanding COVID-19 community spread, there is a higher risk for more individuals to catch COVID-19, especially during the holidays when families are gathering,” said Dr. Regina Chinsio-Kwong, the county’s chief health officer.

“As people spend more time indoors and with loved ones, these viruses will spread. We know it’s frustrating to continuously hear about the preventive measures, but they work when followed and can help to protect each other from serious illness.”

Officials also encouraged residents to wear a well-fitting mask when indoors.

Hospitalizations of COVID-19-infected patients had been on a steady rise since Nov. 11, but as of Dec. 9 the numbers started to descend and then started trending back up by Dec. 11. By last Thursday, the patient levels began trending down again at 376 patients. By Friday, the level was down to 329 with 32 peope being treated in intensive care.

Last Thursday, there were 56 patients in intensive care, but by Wednesday the number was down to 40.

Noymer also noted that the numbers of cases of respiratory syncytial virus, known as RSV, across the state are continuing to decline.

Many hospitals are struggling with staffing issues, Noymer and Chinsio-Kwong said. Part of the shortage of medical staff is the number of health care professionals calling in sick themselves.

Of those hospitalized in the county, 65.1% are unvaccinated or partly vaccinated. The ICU patients are 66.3% partly or unvaccinated.

The number of residents fully vaccinated increased from 2,361,418 to 2,362,030. The number of residents who have received at least one dose is 221,146. The number of booster shots administered increased from 1,428,921 to 1,432,317.

The number of children up to 4 years old who have received at least one dose inched up from 17,028 to 17,299, with 10,198 fully vaccinated. Just 5.5% of the county’s population in the age group is fully vaccinated.

For 5- to 11-year-old children, 97,179 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 14.2% last week to 13.4% and decreased from 15% to 14.1% in the health equity quartile, which measures the communities hardest hit by the pandemic.

The daily case rate per 100,000 decreased from 18.2 last week to 14.7 on a seven-day average with a seven-day lag, and went from 17.4 to 15.9 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.

The county logged 3,360 new cases of COVID-19, hiking the cumulative to 694,160.

The county also logged 42 more fatalities, but many date back through this past year and in 2021.

Of the fatalities logged Thursday, 21 occurred in December, raising its death toll to 23. Six of the fatalities happened last month, increasing November’s death toll to 41.

Two of the fatalities logged Thursday happened in December 2021 and one occurred in January 2021, the deadliest month during the pandemic. There are various reasons for delays in logging deaths, officials say. For instance a resident could have died in another county and there was a delay in a coroner issuing a report.

The overall death toll stands at 7,650.

The positivity rate for those fully vaccinated with a booster went from 17.3 on Dec. 11 to 15.9 on Dec. 18. For those vaccinated with no booster, the rate went from 9.9 to 9.4. For those not vaccinated the rate went from 18.4 to 17.9.

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