SANTA ANA (CNS) - Orange County's weekly COVID-19 averages have zoomed upward, but hospitalizations held steady, according to the latest data released.
The county's average daily case rate per 100,000 residents increased from 8 to 12.7, and the test positivity rate jumped from 4.9% to 6.9%, according to figures released Tuesday.
The county's Health Equity Quartile rate, which measures the disadvantaged communities hardest hit by the pandemic, increased from 4.4% to 6.6%.
Hospitalizations due to the virus increased from 322 on Monday to 333 on Tuesday, with the number of intensive care unit patients declining from 68 to 62. The county has 27.4% of its intensive care unit beds available and 76% of its ventilators.
The last time the county had this many COVID-19 hospitalized patients was March 4, and ICU numbers have not been this high since mid-March.
The Orange County Health Care Agency reported 872 new infections on Tuesday, raising the cumulative case count to 267,039. The county has not reported that many infections in one day since Feb. 4, during the winter surge, although officials noted that Tuesday's reporting period was 30 hours instead of the usual 24 hours.
No new fatalities were logged Tuesday. The death toll remains at 5,143 since the pandemic began.
The death toll for July is 4; 15 for June; 22 for May; 43 for April; 199 for March; 612 for February; 1,563 for January -- the deadliest month of the pandemic -- and 968 for December, the next deadliest.
Andrew Noymer, an epidemiologist and UC Irvine professor of population health and disease prevention, said the most important metric to monitor now is hospitalizations.
“A lot of these could be breakthrough cases, which could be mild,'' Noymer said of the level of new infections. “The good news is the increase in hospitalizations was less. The bad news is hospitalizations are still going up. As long as hospitalizations are increasing I am concerned.''
The rising level of infections could also be a reflection of an increase in testing, which could be spurred in part by children returning to school.
As for the weekly averages, “The numbers are not flattering,'' Noymer said.
“Either we're in a repeat of last year in which we have a summer wave and then presumably another winter wave or the Delta (variant) is strong enough that we have a big wave that starts now and ends who knows when,'' he said. “Neither of those scenarios is very appealing.''
Noymer said the only way out of the pandemic is through vaccination. Anyone relying on a past infection for immunity is vulnerable to getting COVID-19 again, he said.
“Natural immunity is not so robust against the variants, which is unusual, but it is what it is. It's the reality,'' Noymer said. “If anything, the immunity from the vaccine seems to be more robust, believe it or not, which is also unusual. This is an unusual virus. It's not the same as the flu or measles, so it has slightly different rules.''
Noymer said he will be keeping an eye on the hospitalization levels the rest of this week.
“What gives me a little hope is the increase is less'' in hospitalizations, Noymer said. “Let's see what the end of the week shows.''
Orange County CEO Frank Kim said Monday that the difference in the positivity rate reflects a surge among residents in the coastal cities.
“A lot of the new infections are happening in communities that are not historically part of the lower health equity communities,'' Kim told City News Service.
If the county were still in the state's old blueprint for reopening the economy it would be in the purple tier, the most restrictive.
Testing has also risen notably as well, Kim said. The county is averaging 226.7 tests per 100,000 people, Kim said.
Vaccinations have been picking up nationally. The number of people in Orange County who have received at least one dose of vaccine stands at 1,965,282 as of July 26, according to the state's database.
As of Thursday, the OCHCA reported that 1,897,664 people in Orange County were fully vaccinated. The county has 1,773,927 fully vaccinated residents who have received Pfizer or Moderna vaccines, which require two shots. The county has 123,737 who have received the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
Copyright 2021, City News Service, Inc.