SANTA ANA (CNS) - Orange County's COVID-19 hospitalizations and positivity rates have continued substantial declines, but high numbers of fatality reports keep mounting, according to the latest data.
The number of COVID-positive patients at county hospitals declined from 399 Thursday to 363 Friday, while the number of those patients in intensive care ticked up slightly from 76 to 77, according to the Orange County Health Care Agency.
OC has not seen patient counts this low since around Christmas.
The county had 22.2% of its ICU beds available and 64% of its ventilators as of Friday. Local health officials become concerned when the level of ICU beds falls below 20%.
Of those hospitalized, 84% are unvaccinated and 86% in an intensive care unit are not inoculated, according to the OCHCA.
Also Friday, the agency reported 567 new positive COVID tests and 31 additional deaths associated with the virus, bringing its cumulative totals to 535,175 cases and 6,450 fatalities.
The fatalities occurred this month and last. February's death toll increased to 62, while January's death toll rose to 404.
December's death toll stands at 107, November's at 112, October's at 136, September's at 199 and August's at 186.
In contrast, the death toll before the Delta variant fueled a late- summer surge was 31 in July, 20 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 1,600, ahead of December 2020, the next-deadliest with 986 people lost to the virus.
Of the fatalities logged Friday, two were assisted living facility residents, raising the cumulative death toll in that category to 667. The number of skilled nursing facility residents who have succumbed to COVID-19 increased by one to 1,266.
Dr. Jose Mayorga, executive director of the UC Irvine Family Health Center, told City News Service that the rising death toll statistics should give anyone who thinks the pandemic is over some pause.
``It's still a pandemic,'' Mayorga said. ``Those that are using words like endemic or lull are in a different situation. The fact that people are using the phrase endemic means they're looking across a stable, constant level of cases that we're seeing amongst our population, but that's not the case. There continues to be fluctuations. Three's going to be surges, dips, climbs and obviously there's concern about a new variant coming out.''
Mayorga said he understands ``people's frustrations and they're tired of dealing with the pandemic, but if we're considering 120,000 new Covid cases in the country per day and a few thousand deaths per day as endemic, then we probably need to look into the mirror and say are we willing to accept those losses and impacts, and that says a lot about where we're at as a society. Being endemic doesn't necessarily mean it's over.''
Mayorga said the current levels of fatalities are ``too high a number for us to continue to see.''
He also encouraged the continued usage of face coverings for students and implored parents to get their children inoculated.
``As a parent myself, I want to know that schools are going to be implementing strategies and that we're being told the ventilation systems are upgraded and we're doing more screening and testing of kids to be assured of the safety of everyone, and encourage vaccination among our students who have yet to be vaccinated,'' he said.
He said about 19% of ages 5 to 11 are vaccinated statewide.
``We need to do a better job of educating parents and families,'' he said, and encouraged parents to discuss the safety of vaccines with their family physician or other health care providers.
The Omicron variant was a game-changer for children as it made the virus more contagious and has led to more serious health impacts on them, Mayorga pointed out.
He said about 44 children have died in California due to the virus.
``That's the equivalent of an entire school bus,'' he said. ``Are we OK with wiping out a school bus? If a school bus crashed and killed everyone on that bus, what would be our response to that? Shouldn't we have the same response to this preventable infection? Can we respond the same way to prevent that from happening.''
Mayorga said he has seen signs locally that more parents are getting more comfortable with getting their children vaccinated.
``It's still a challenge, but we're making headway,'' he said. ``It does take a lot of convincing and education. I think they're clinging on to the idea that it doesn't hurt kids as much as adults, and kids are healthy overall.''
Mayorga said doctors are careful not to equate it with a flu shot because COVID-19 is more deadly.
``We try to equate it with other things they're familiar with -- things like polio, measles, those types of things from their country of origin where that was more prominent,'' he said.
Also, doctors have been warning parents about the dangers of ``long Covid,'' which is the lingering of symptoms long after a patient has gotten past the infection, Mayorga said.
``We also know that kids are at risk of long Covid, which will impact their overall development'' with insomnia or their ability to concentrate in school, he said.
Dr. Clayton Chau, director of the Orange County Health Care Agency and county health officer, said this week that 99.9% of the county's seniors 65 and older have received at least one shot. Seniors in the county are 93% fully vaccinated, he added.
The number of fully vaccinated residents in Orange County rose from 2,412,117 last week to 2,422,759, according to data released Thursday. That number includes an increase from 2,257,774 last week to 2,268,168 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 154,343 to 154,591. Booster shots increased from 1,162,927 to 1,180,353.
In the most recently eligible age group of 5 to 11 years old, the number of children vaccinated increased from 72,982 to 77,055 versus 191,525, who have not been vaccinated. It's the least vaccinated age group in Orange County. The next-worst vaccinated eligible age group is 25 to 34, with 322,230 inoculated and 137,171 who have not gotten a shot.
The age group that has gotten the most booster shots is 55 to 64.
Outbreaks -- defined as three or more infected residents -- decreased from 23 to 13 at assisted living facilities from Feb. 9-14, the most recent data available, and dropped from 20 to 15 for skilled nursing facilities.
The county's jails had 56 infected inmates Thursday, up two from Wednesday, with the results of 170 tests pending.
The case rate per 100,000 people decreased from 24 on Thursday to 22.3 on Friday. The testing positivity rate dropped from 5.9% to 5.5%, and fell from 4.5% to 4% in the health equity quartile, which measures underserved communities hardest hit by the pandemic.
The case rate per 100,000 people decreased from 23.7 on Feb. 5 to 14.3 on Feb. 12 for those fully vaccinated with a booster shot; from 29.7 to 17.2 for those fully vaccinated with no booster; and 50.6 to 29.4 for those not fully vaccinated.