SANTA ANA, Calif. (CNS) — A UC Irvine epidemiologist expressed concern Wednesday about the upward trend in COVID-19 cases in Orange County.
"We're still in a good place, but hospitalizations have been consistently above 50 now for awhile," said Andrew Noymer, a UC Irvine professor of population health and disease prevention. "The downward trend in hospitalizations seems to have been halted."
On Thursday, there were 70 coronavirus patients hospitalized in the county. As of Tuesday, there were 73, but the number of patients in intensive care ticked down from 13 last week to 11 as of Tuesday's report, according to the Orange County Health Care Agency.
The agency is now reporting statistics weekly after previously cutting back to Monday through Friday, so Tuesday's statistics are the most recent ones available.
Noymer said the ICU statistics continue to be low, but added, "The ICUs are difficult to interpret, so I wouldn't hang my hat on those too much."
Nationally, most of the patients hospitalized for COVID-19 are unvaccinated, and Noymer said that is likely the case in Orange County as well.
"What we need is more people getting vaccinated," Noymer said.
It is also likely that the more contagious Delta strain is fueling the spread, he added. The Centers for Disease Control has reported that Delta is now the dominant strain in the United States, and the California Department of Public Health said the same thing applies to the state.
According to state data released every Tuesday, Orange County's average daily new case rate per 100,000 residents edged up from 1 last week to 1.5, while the overall test positivity rate ticked up from 0.9% to 1.2%.
The county's Health Equity Quartile rate, which measures positivity in hot spots in disadvantaged communities, climbed from 1.1% last week to 1.4%.
The positivity rate "is still low in the grand scheme of things, but it was below one percent, and I'm not really liking that," Noymer said.
"We're seeing growth in cases and test positivity," Orange County CEO Frank Kim told City News Service on Tuesday. "While it's not a surprise, anytime you see growth in numbers you still worry, but we still have close to 30% of our population who are unvaccinated so you worry about those with a greater risk of complications if they get infected."
Kim said it was not surprising given the lifting of restrictions in mid-June.
"But we'd love to see a leveling of that so there's just a small bump over the holiday weekend and beginning of summer," he said.
The county reported 331 new infections from Saturday through Tuesday, raising the cumulative total to 256,776. The county has also logged two fatalities since last week, both in June, raising the overall death toll to 5,124.
The death toll now stands at 9 for June, 22 for May, 42 for April, 198 for March, 610 for February, 1,560 for January — the deadliest month of the pandemic — and 966 for December, the next deadliest.
"It's hard to argue the vaccines don't work," Kim said, noting the death toll has gone down significantly and hospitalizations for serious illness related to the virus have remained low.
Seniors, who are most at risk of dying from complications of COVID-19, are 85% inoculated in the county.
The highest number of recent infections are coming from the 25-to-34 age group, which is among the lowest vaccinated in the county, Kim said. Of the new infections reported Tuesday, 86 were 25-to-34, 59 were 35-to-44, 53 were 45- to-54, 39 were 18-to-24 and 48 were children, Kim said.
In contrast, only 6 were older than 85, 5 were 75-to-84, 8 were 65-to-74 and 28 were 55-to-64, Kim said.
As of Wednesday — the most recent statistics available — the county had 1,779,309 fully vaccinated residents. Of those, 1,663,883 received both doses and 244,757 had received one shot of the Moderna or Pfizer vaccine, which require two doses. Another 115,426 people have received the one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine.