SANTA ANA (CNS) - Hospitalizations for COVID-19 in Orange County declined for the second consecutive day Friday as signs grow indicating the Omicron variant-fueled surge may be slowing, according to data released by the Orange County Health Care Agency.
The number of hospitalized patients fell from 1,183 on Thursday to 1,144 Friday, while the number of patients in intensive care declined from 199 to 188.
The county's percentage of available ICU beds, however, dropped from 19.4% Thursday to 17.5% Friday, while the number of available ventilators was at 60.6%. Health officials get concerned when the percentage of ICU beds drops below 20%.
Of those hospitalized, 85% are unvaccinated, and 87% of the ICU patients are not inoculated.
COVID-positive hospitalizations have not been this high since early February of last year, when there were 1,164 COVID-19 patients on Feb. 5.
Andrew Noymer, an epidemiologist and UC Irvine professor of population health and disease prevention, told City News Service Friday that the data shows ``continued improvement, and we may have turned the corner.''
Noymer, however, added, ``It's a little tricky to call it for sure, but it looks like we've found a peak, but COVID is littered with premature congratulations ... Everything is smelling like roses, which is a good thing with Valentine's Day coming up.''
Orange County CEO Frank Kim told City News Service there were encouraging signs in the case rates.
Kim said that by looking at case episode dates, the peak was Jan. 3 or 4, when the average was about 10,000 cases daily.
``In the last week, we've been averaging 5,000 to 7,000 cases,'' he said. ``So we're coming out of that early January peak ... and here we are at Jan. 21 and the numbers are falling off.''
The county's adjusted daily case rate per 100,000 residents dipped from 200 Thursday to 197.1 Friday. The testing positivity rate inched down from 27.4% to 26.5%, and edged down from 31.5% to 29.5% in the health equity quartile, which measures underserved communities hardest hit by the pandemic.
The county reported 11,020 new positive COVID-19 tests Friday, raising the cumulative total since the pandemic started to 477,127. The county logged seven more fatalities, upping the cumulative death toll to 5,953.
All seven died this month, raising January's death toll so far to 22. December's death toll stands at 78.
November's death toll stands at 104, October's at 127, September's at 196 and August's at 182.
In contrast, the death toll before the Delta variant fueled a summer surge was 31 in July, 19 in June, 26 in May, 47 in April, 202 in March and 620 for February. January 2021 remains the deadliest month of the pandemic, with a death toll of 1,598, ahead of December 2020, the next deadliest with 985 people lost to the virus.
One of the dead reported on Friday was an assisted living facility resident, raising the death toll since the pandemic began in that category to 648. The death toll for skilled nursing facility residents stands at 1,225.
Outbreaks -- defined as three or more infected residents -- dropped from 42 elderly assisted living facilities last week to 37 as of Tuesday, and from 30 to 29 for skilled nursing facilities.
County officials are coordinating staffing assistance and COVID-19 tests at the assisted living and skilled nursing facilities, Orange County's chief health officer, Dr. Clayton Chau said. The tests help residents and staff assess risk so operators can keep visiting hours open.
``It's not good for their mental health'' to not be able to visit with relatives, Chau said at a news conference Tuesday.
There are enough hospital beds available for patients, but it's uncertain whether there are enough nurses and doctors to staff them. That's why state officials are allowing some infected healthcare workers to report to work if they are asymptomatic and are working with infected patients, as hospitals have run out of options, Chau said.
Orange County jails are also managing another surge in infections. As of Friday, there were 349 infected inmates, up from 275 as of Wednesday. Of the infected inmates, 79 were newly booked ones.
Orange County Board of Supervisors Chairman Doug Chaffee implored residents to get vaccinated. He pointed out the vast majority of COVID hospital patients are unvaccinated.
``That's stressing the whole system,'' Chaffee said. ``People who have other medical needs won't get the care they need because the hospital is filled with unvaccinated patients. If we work together we'll win this COVID battle and make 2022 a successful and prosperous year.''
The number of fully vaccinated residents in Orange County reached 2,372,444, according to data released Thursday. That number includes an increase from 2,205,067 last week to 2,219,206 of residents who have received the two-dose regimen of vaccines from Pfizer or Moderna.
The number of residents receiving the one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine increased from 152,694 to 153,238. Booster shots increased from 975,937 to 1,043,267.
``I am pleased to hear that,'' Noymer said.
In the relatively recently eligible age group of 5 to 11 years old, the number of children vaccinated increased from 52,803 to 57,435 versus 211,145 who have not been vaccinated. It's the least vaccinated age group in Orange County. The next-worst vaccinated age group is 25 to 34, with 316,763 inoculated and 142,638 who have not gotten a shot.
The case rate for 100,000 unvaccinated residents decreased from 355.9 on Jan. 8 to 234.1 as of Jan. 15, the most recent data available. For those fully vaccinated without a booster, the case rate dropped from 275.5 to 162.1. For the fully vaccinated with a booster, the rate dropped from 114.8 to 73.5.