COVID-19 Hospitalizations Tick Up in OC, But ICU Numbers Drop

SANTA ANA (CNS) - Orange County's hospitalizations for COVID-19 have ticked up by 14, to 213, but the number of intensive care patients with the coronavirus dropped by five, to 49, according to the latest numbers released by health officials.

The numbers were announced Thursday. Hospitalizations had dropped from 216 on Tuesday to 199 Wednesday.

Andrew Noymer, a UC Irvine professor of population health and disease prevention, said the one-day increase in hospitalizations is “just a bit of noise'' and likely insignificant, though he stressed that hospitalization rates are the key metric for the public to watch.

“As cases fall and testing goes up the case rates can be deceptively misleading,'' Noymer said. “The hospitalizations is what you really want to look for... and they're going in the right direction.''

Noymer pointed out that the intensive care unit numbers in the county haven't been below 50 in months.

“The number one predictor of deaths is people in the ICU -- like a few weeks prior,'' Noymer said.

And even if someone who gets vaccinated gets infected the impact will be substantially lessened, he added.

“Some of these vaccines may fail, but they may just fail at the level that people still get sick, but not as severely,'' Noymer said.

“Imagine if Billy Joe gets sick and he thinks `How is this possible, I got vaccinated?' ... but he doesn't feel that bad and stays at home and toughs it out. That same infection in December would have meant a trip to the hospital.''

The case rate in Orange County as of Wednesday was 3.8 per 100,000 residents. But that does not automatically propel the county into the orange tier of the state's economic re-opening system. That will not happen until April 7 at the earliest if the current trends continue.

Orange County CEO Frank Kim said it could come sooner if the state authorizes it, as it did when officials moved up the county's graduation into the red tier on Sunday instead of Wednesday.

On Thursday, the Orange County Health Care Agency reported 114 new COVID-19 cases, upping the cumulative total to 249,181.

The county also logged 11 more fatalities Thursday, 10 that occurred this month and one in February.

The death toll for January, the deadliest month of the pandemic, is 1,412. The death toll for February is 467 and 32 for March.

The county on Thursday also reported 11,880 COVID-19 tests, raising the cumulative total to 3,213,470.

The county is doing 312.9 tests per 100,000 on a seven-day average with a seven-day lag.

“We're still in the low 300s, and the reality is we're where the rest of the state of California has dropped to,'' Kim said.

“So now we're having discussions about how to modify our testing program to encourage greater numbers of people with symptoms to come out and test. We have to find a way to make it even easier, because the demand isn't there anymore.''

The latest weekly update from the state, issued on Tuesdays, shows the county's test positivity rate improved to 2.2% from 3.2% from last Tuesday, and the adjusted case rate per 100,000 people on a seven-day average with a seven-day lag improved from 6 to 4.

The county's Health Equity Quartile rate, which measures positivity in hotspots in disadvantaged communities, improved from 4.1% last week to 3.5%.

That puts the county just one-tenth of a point away from meeting the threshold for the orange tier for case rate. If the trend continues, the county could move up to the orange tier by April 7, three days after Easter.

Kim said earlier this week that he was a “little nervous'' about another surge such as the one being reported in Europe.

“The goal is to get these vaccines done and that's it,'' Kim said.

Lines are appearing at some Orange County pharmacies as the availability of vaccinations at drug store chains is increasing. County staff has estimated that the big drug store chains are vaccinating about 100 people a day in each location, Kim said.

State officials have indicated the county will continue to receive its usual allocation of vaccine doses. The county has inoculated about 1 million people, a little less than one-third of its population.

Orange County Supervisor Lisa Bartlett said county officials are working on setting up a mobile vaccine distribution point at Saddleback Church to mirror the one set up at Christ Cathedral to reach out to congregants reluctant to accept inoculation because of concerns that some vaccines were developed from cells of aborted fetuses.

Roman Catholic leaders have assured churchgoers that the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines are OK and that Johnson & Johnson is acceptable if there is no other alternative.

“It gives those who are uncertain about getting vaccinated that it's OK to do it,'' Bartlett said.

“We have to do outreach in so many different ways'' to reach various groups of people who are reluctant to get inoculated, Bartlett said.

Photo: Getty Images

Copyright 2021, City News Service, Inc.

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