SANTA ANA (CNS) - The number of people hospitalized with a coronavirus infection in Orange County has decreased by two to 327, according to the latest state data.
Of those patients hospitalized as of Saturday, 37 were being treated in intensive care, up from 32 Friday.
The latest numbers come two days after local health officials reported 3,360 new cases of COVID-19 and 42 more virus-related fatalities, although many of those deaths date back through the past year and part of 2021.
The county has now recorded 694,160 infections and 7,650 COVID-related deaths since the pandemic began, according to the Orange County Health Care Agency. The majority of the deaths have occurred in the elderly and people with underlying health conditions.
Of the fatalities logged Thursday, 21 occurred in December, raising its death toll to 23. Six of the fatalities happened last month, increasing November's death toll to 41.
Two of the fatalities logged Thursday happened in December 2021 and one occurred in January 2021, the deadliest month during the pandemic. There are various reasons for delays in logging deaths, officials say. For instance a resident could have died in another county and there was a delay in a coroner issuing a report.
The test positivity rate went from 14.2% the previous week to 13.4% and decreased from 15% to 14.1% in the health equity quartile, which measures the communities hardest hit by the pandemic.
The daily case rate per 100,000 decreased from 18.2 the previous week to 14.7 on a seven-day average with a seven-day lag, and went from 17.4 to 15.9 in the adjusted daily case rate per 100,000 on a seven-day average with a seven- day lag.
The OCHCA reports COVID data every Thursday.
While officials announced Orange County's move into the "high" level of COVID-19 transmission in its latest data, an epidemiologist said there are signs COVID-19 hospitalizations may have leveled off.
"Hospitalizations and ICU is about the same" as last week, Andrew Noymer, a UC Irvine professor of population health and disease prevention, told City News Service. "Test positivity is still pretty high, so there's COVID out there. There's no doubt. But hospitalization seems to have plateaued. Even including incidentals the hospitalizations this time last year was rising like crazy, so this is frankly good news."
Noymer, however, cautioned residents to be careful.
"I still would absolutely test before holiday gatherings," he said.
Officials also encouraged residents to wear a well-fitting mask when indoors.
Hospitalizations of COVID-19-infected patients had been on a steady rise since Nov. 11, but as of Dec. 9 the numbers started to descend and then started trending back up by Dec. 11. By last Thursday, the patient levels began trending down again at 376 patients. By Friday, the level was down to 329 with 32 people being treated in intensive care.
Last Thursday, there were 56 patients in intensive care, but by Wednesday the number was down to 40.
Noymer also noted that the numbers of cases of respiratory syncytial virus, known as RSV, across the state are continuing to decline.
Many hospitals are struggling with staffing issues, and part of the shortage is the number of health care professionals calling in sick themselves.
Of the county's COVID-positive patients, 65.1% are unvaccinated or partly vaccinated. The ICU patients are 66.3% partly or unvaccinated, according to the OCHCA.