OC's COVID Hospitalizations Stable for Now, With Omicron Onslaught Expected

Senior woman wearing face mask lying on hospital bed

Photo: Getty Images

SANTA ANA (CNS) - The number of Orange County residents hospitalized with the coronavirus increased by three to 196, with 53 of those patients in intensive care, up from 49 on Saturday, according to the latest state figures.

The latest numbers come two days after the Orange County Health Care Agency reported the county's first case of the Omicron variant of COVID-19. The health agency said the OC's first Omicron infection was detected in an adult male resident who is fully vaccinated and who has experienced mild illness.

The OCHCA recorded 449 new infections and five additional deaths associated with the virus Friday, raising the cumulative totals to 318,831 cases and 5,851 deaths since the pandemic began.

The county had 22.4% of its ICU beds available and 70% of its ventilators. Of those hospitalized, 87% are unvaccinated and 89% in ICU are unvaccinated.

The OCHCA does not report COVID data on weekends.

The county's deputy health officer advised residents to dial down their holiday plans amid increasing COVID-19 concerns. Dr. Regina Chinsio-Kwong also advised residents to invest in better-quality masks with an expected winter surge in cases looming and possibly further fueled by the more contagious Omicron strain.

When asked about parents wanting to take their children to see holiday shows, Chinsio-Kwong said, ``I get it. I have kids who really want to go out and see performances.''

But, she added, she ``went out and bought more disposable masks,'' and suggested that surgical N95 masks are preferred over cloth masks.

Chinsio-Kwong's advice came just before officials were notified of the first Omicron case in Orange County. But on her weekly conference call with reporters, she said residents should expect that the variant was already here because it has been detected in multiple neighboring counties.

Chinsio-Kwong stressed residents should be on guard even while gathering outdoors.

``If you already bought your tickets to `The Nutcracker,' I guess you can consider going ... but I would strongly advise your child, who is vaccinated, to wear a very snug N95 mask,'' Chinsio-Kwong told reporters.

Avoid going to the movies, she said.

``You can do movies at home,'' she said. ``It's actually better at home. You can get popcorn, spread your feet out. It's probably safer that way. ... But if you decide to go the movie theater, wear an upgraded mask ... and eat a snack afterwards or outdoors.''

Chinsio-Kwong said she is going to rethink holiday get-togethers.

``My family is fully vaccinated, but I'm really going to think hard about this one,'' she said. ``I'm going to request all of my family members be fully vaccinated and boosted. I'm going to probably even give out a lot of masks as gifts to make sure they're safe. I'm not thinking about being in crowded areas.''

Orange County is 66% fully vaccinated, but there are about 700,000 residents who have not gotten even one dose of vaccine, Chinsio-Kwong said.

``This is still a significant number,'' she said. ``That means one in five who are eligible are not protected with even a single dose. This is problematic with Delta and Omicron circulating.''

Even without the pandemic, winter is among the busiest times for hospitals, as there is often a rise in influenza and cardiac cases as well as domestic violence cases, she said.

Chinsio-Kwong acknowledged mask fatigue, but emphasized residents have to stick it out for at least another month or so.

To those still hesitant or nervous about getting vaccinated, she implored them to speak with their doctor. Fears of side effects like myocarditis from the vaccines are dwarfed by the impact COVID-19 can have on the heart, Chinsio-Kwong said.

Studies show that Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are at least 70% effective against infection for the Omicron variant, Chinsio-Kwong said. They nearly always protect recipients from hospitalization or death, she said.

For instance, of the 10 Orange County residents who succumbed to COVID- 19 this month so far, seven of them were unvaccinated. The rest were older than 75, Chinsio-Kwong said.

Orange County CEO Frank Kim told City News Service last week that most of the COVID-19 indicators are tracking down slightly.

On Dec. 9, the county's case rate per 100,000 was 7.6, then increased to 9.8 as of Dec. 12, but was down to 9.2 as of last Wednesday, Kim said.

The positivity rate hovered between 3.2% to 3.4% last week, he said.

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