SANTA ANA (CNS) — Hospitalizations for COVID-19 accelerated again Thursday in Orange County as the more contagious delta variant rampages through unvaccinated residents. 

What You Need To Know

  • Hospitalizations due to the virus increased from 375 on Wednesday to 409 on Thursday

  • The last time the county had this many people hospitalized with the virus was March 2

  • ICU numbers have not been this high since mid-March

  • There are 11 children hospitalized for COVID-19 at Children's Hospital of Orange County

Hospitalizations due to the virus increased from 375 on Wednesday to 409 on Thursday, with the number of intensive care unit patients increasing from 68 to 69. The county had 20.2% of its intensive care unit beds available and 74% of its ventilators.

The last time the county had this many people hospitalized with the virus was March 2, and ICU numbers have not been this high since mid-March. 

"It's still below the peak of last summer, but I'm apprehensive about where it's going," Andrew Noymer, an epidemiologist and UC Irvine professor of population health and disease prevention, told City News Service.

"It's anyone's guess what the peak will be" this time, Noymer said. "At this point, I would recommend vaccination, and I'm vaccinated and I am back to wearing a mask at the grocery store and I'm not doing indoor dining. I wouldn't recommend going to indoor bars and restaurants and indoor concerts."

It is difficult to predict how high the level of hospitalizations will reach, he said.

"There's just been so many surprises in the pandemic so far," he said. "Nobody knows. It's getting worse and I'm not liking it." 

According to Noymer, the most important metric to monitor is hospitalizations because many of the infections could be from higher testing or involve breakthrough infections among the vaccinated, which typically feature mild or no symptoms.

Orange County Supervisor Katrina Foley also called the rising number of COVID-19 hospitalizations worrisome.

"I'm concerned," Foley said Wednesday. "There are some people who are like, `We don't have to be concerned because the people who are getting infected are not vaccinated,' but I don't agree with that. I don't wish COVID on anyone. I am concerned about the numbers right now. They are only increasing. We're not stabilizing, not decreasing."

Foley said there are 11 children hospitalized for COVID-19 at Children's Hospital of Orange County.

Orange County CEO Frank Kim said Wednesday that state officials have reported that 18% of Californians who get infected are eventually winding up in a hospital within 10 days.

"That goes to the fact that the majority of individuals in hospital beds are unvaccinated," Kim said.

Orange County officials estimate the number of hospitalized COVID-19 patients fluctuates between the low 90th percentile to high 90th percentile of unvaccinated residents, Kim said.

Another headache county officials are dealing with is carrying out a state requirement issued last week that requires checking the vaccination status of some government employees who work in facilities with high-risk people such as homeless shelters, jails and hospitals. Those who are unvaccinated must be tested weekly.

"It's a huge administrative lift," Kim said of the new program, which begins Aug. 23.

The county on Thursday reported 777 new infections, raising the cumulative to 267,908. There were also three new fatalities, all of which occurred in July, raising that month's death toll to 7.

The county's average daily case rate per 100,000 residents increased from 8 to 12.7, and the test positivity rate jumped from 4.9% to 6.9%, according to weekly averages released Tuesday.

The county's Health Equity Quartile rate, which measures the disadvantaged communities hardest hit by the pandemic, increased from 4.4% to 6.6%.

The overall death toll increased to 5,146 since the pandemic began. 

The death toll for June is 15; 22 for May; 43 for April; 199 for March; 612 for February; 1,563 for January — the deadliest month of the pandemic — and 968 for December, the next deadliest.

Noymer said the only way out of the pandemic is through vaccination. Anyone relying on a past infection for immunity is vulnerable to getting COVID- 19 again, he said.

"Natural immunity is not so robust against the variants, which is unusual, but it is what it is. It's the reality," Noymer said. "If anything, the immunity from the vaccine seems to be more robust, believe it or not, which is also unusual. This is an unusual virus. It's not the same as the flu or measles, so it has slightly different rules."

Vaccinations have been picking up nationally.

The number of people in Orange County who have received at least one dose of vaccine stands at 1,991,822 as of Thursday, according to the state's database. The number of fully vaccinated Orange County residents increased from 1,897,664 last week to 1,922,696 on Thursday, according to the Orange County Health Care Agency.

The county has 1,796,967 fully vaccinated residents who have received Pfizer or Moderna vaccines, which require two shots, and 125,729 who have received the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine.