SANTA ANA (CNS) - Orange County's weekly COVID-19 statistics show a significant decline over last week, but hospitalizations are back on the rise, according to data released today.
According to weekly averages released on Tuesdays, the county's average daily case rate per 100,000 residents dropped from 22.2 last week to 18.6, while the test positivity rate fell from 8% to 6.8%.
The county's Health Equity Quartile rate, which measures the impact on disadvantaged communities, dropped from 8.4% to 7.3%.
Hospitalizations bumped up from 546 on Monday to 556 on Tuesday, according to the Orange County Health Care Agency. The number of patients in intensive care increased from 139 to 150.
Orange County's coronavirus death toll for August also continues to rise. Three of five deaths logged Tuesday occurred in August, with the most recent on Aug. 22. Two occurred in December. It is not uncommon for lengthy delays in death reports.
The newly logged fatalities put the county's cumulative coronavirus death toll at 5,225, with 58 of those fatalities occurring in August. The death toll for July was 17.
This marks the first time since the winter surge that there was a month-to-month increase in fatalities.
The deadliest day for the month is Aug. 17, when six patients died. The last time there were more deaths in a month was March 14, when seven died.
Death is the final lagging indicator, experts say, so it reflects the ultimate toll from this summer's surge.
What's also unusual about the deaths of late are the number of younger people succumbing to the virus. Another resident in the 25-34 age group has died since Friday, along with a few more in the 35 to 44 age range, according to OCHCA statistics. But of the five deaths logged on Tuesday, all were 65 or older, according to HCA data.
Vaccinations have steeply driven down the death toll each month since records were set in December and January, but it now appears they are trending back upward due to the more contagious Delta variant of the virus.
“The Delta variant is not a heat-seeking missile for younger people,'' Andrew Noymer, an epidemiologist and UC Irvine professor of population health and disease prevention, told City News Service on Monday.
“We have vaccinated a lot of the older folks so water runs downhill,'' he said. “It's not finding younger people because it's preferential. It's finding them because that's who is unvaccinated, so you're going to get more cases, more hospitalizations and more deaths in those age groups.''
The OCHCA also reported 355 new positive COVID infections from over the weekend, bringing the county's cumulative case count to 285,453.
Noymer is concerned hospitalizations could go back up again if there is a surge fueled by children returning to school.
“I'll be surprised if we really hit a peak,'' Noymer said Monday.
Noymer noted he saw a news photo of cheering fans at a high school football game over the weekend. “There wasn't a mask in sight,'' he said.
Noymer continues to encourage vaccination because it is the most effective way to stay healthy. Residents who are fully vaccinated should still be concerned about breakthrough infections, but the shots are likely to lessen the severity of the illness and keep them out of a hospital if they do contract the virus.
“This idea that breakthroughs are rare or mild -- people know both of those things are lies,'' he said.
Orange County Supervisor Lisa Bartlett had a similar message on Monday.
“Really listen to our public health officer,'' Bartlett said, referring to Dr. Clayton Chau, who is also director of the Health Care Agency. Chau has continued to tout vaccines as the only way out of the pandemic.
“He's dispensing some sage advice based on what he's seeing from the front lines day in and day out,'' Bartlett said.
Bartlett said last week she heard about five fully vaccinated residents who were infected with COVID-19.
“They said they didn't get hospitalized and they had some symptoms and weren't feeling well, so they decided to get tested anyway'' and found out they were COVID-19 positive, Bartlett said.
Bartlett said the county still has plenty of capacity to handle the surge of patients, but she is concerned about what impact more flu cases this fall and winter could mean.
“I'm concerned because there's a lot of COVID fatigue this time around,'' compared with last year when widespread masking tamped down the spread of flu, Bartlett said.
Chau on Friday said hospitalized COVID-19 patients are “generally in their mid-30s to mid-40s.''
The OCHCA released updated vaccination numbers Thursday, showing 1,989,131 fully vaccinated residents. That includes 1,857,185 who received the two-dose Moderna or Pfizer vaccines and 131,946 who received the one-dose Johnson & Johnson shot.
The case rate per 100,000 residents as of Aug. 21 was 35.9 for unvaccinated residents, but 6.5 for the fully vaccinated.
Health experts note that many of the infections being logged are due to an increase in testing and many are among vaccinated residents so the symptoms are not leading to serious illness requiring hospitalization. Some are being caught as patients are admitted to hospitals for unrelated reasons.
Copyright 2021, City News Service, Inc.