SANTA ANA (CNS) - Orange County's COVID-19 hospitalizations continue to climb even as the weekly case averages ticked down slightly for another week, according to the latest data released by the Orange County health Care Agency.
But Andrew Noymer, an epidemiologist and UC Irvine professor of population health and disease prevention, told City News Service that it is too early to tell if the increase in hospitalizations signals the start of an expected winter wave.
“I think we're in a good place, honestly,'' Noymer said. “We were at 400 hospitalizations in August, so heading into the winter I'll go with 200. I'm not going to get so panicky yet. ... I'm still expecting another wave, but it's too early to say if this increase is now the start of that wave or just noise.''
The county's weekly COVID case rate per 100,000 residents, which is released on Tuesdays, improved from 6.6 to 6, while the testing-positivity rate fell from 2.5% to 2.3%. The county's Health Equity Quartile positivity rate -- which measures progress in low-income communities -- dropped from 2.5% to 2.3%.
But the county's COVID-19 hospitalizations increased from 207 Monday to 213, with the number of intensive care unit patients rising from 44 to 52.
The county has 26.8% of its ICU beds available and 71% of its ventilators.
The county also reported 129 infections Tuesday, raising the cumulative since the pandemic began to 303,699.
Six deaths were logged Tuesday, raising the cumulative to 5,584.
Five of the deaths occurred this month, raising the death toll to 34 for October.
One occurred in September, raising last month's death toll to 165.
The August death toll stands at 172.
In contrast, the death toll before the more contagious Delta variant-fueled surge was 29 in July, 19 for June, 26 for May, 46 for April, 200 for March, 615 for February, 1,585 for January -- the deadliest month of the pandemic -- and 977 for December, the next-deadliest.
Most of those who died in September were unvaccinated, and the same trend is true for those who are hospitalized, Dr. Regina Chinsio-Kwong, the county's deputy county health officer, said last week.
Chinsio-Kwong again encouraged residents to get flu and COVID-19 shots, stressing it is safe to get both.
Noymer was pleased to see a Food and Drug Administration panel on Tuesday recommended the Pfizer vaccine for children 5 to 11, but he added it's difficult to say if it will put a dent in cases.
“We honestly don't know the role kids have in spreading the virus,'' he said. “I'm all for vaccinating them, but it remains to be seen whether this will be a game changer. I'm not trying to pour cold water on vaccinating kids. I'm all for it, but it remains to be seen if it is a game changer.''
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