SANTA ANA, Calif. (CNS) — Orange County's COVID-19 hospitalizations and infection rates inched down as the county also logged eight more fatalities, according to data released Friday by the Orange County Health Care Agency.
Hospital patient numbers decreased from 137 Wednesday to 129 Thursday, according to data released Friday. The number of intensive care unit patients ticked down 29 to 25.
The case rate per 100,000 people declined from 4.9 to 4.8, according to the OCHCA. The testing positivity rate ticked down from 2.4% to 2.3%, and inched up from 2.7% to 2.8% in the health equity quartile, which measures underserved communities hardest hit by the pandemic.
It is difficult to determine if the county has reached its floor for hospitalizations.
"It's been bouncing around 130 for a few days now," said Andrew Noymer, an epidemiologist and UC Irvine professor of population health and disease prevention. "I wouldn't rule out that it could decline further, but I won't commit to that. It's like reaching for an Ouija board at this point."
Noymer said he still advises residents to keep masking indoors.
"The pandemic could be over, depending on how you define pandemic, but Covid's not over," Noymer said. "I'd like to see kids masking in school, but not permanently because I don't want to see a generation of kids going to school not able to read facial expressions. But we're still in a situation and I'd like to see some extreme caution before we bin the masks."
The subvariant of omicron is likely to become dominant, Noymer said.
"We'll continue to see strains until further notice," Noymer said.
The county had 28.7% of its ICU beds available and 65.8% of its ventilators as of Friday. Local health officials become concerned when the level of ICU beds falls below 20%.
Of those hospitalized, approximately 84% are unvaccinated and 86% of those being treated in the ICU are not inoculated, according to the OCHCA.
The county logged 731 new positive cases on Friday, raising the cumulative total to 544,844 and the eight more fatalities, boosting the overall death toll to 6,828.
Of the fatalities logged Friday, four happened this month, increasing March's death toll to 19. Another three happened last month, increasing February's death toll to 285. And another one happened in January, increasing that month's death toll to 531.
December's death toll stands at 108, November's at 115, October's at 136, September's at 201 and August's at 186.
January 2021 was 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.
The case rate per 100,000 people decreased from 4.9 March 5 to 3.2 March 12 for those fully vaccinated with a booster shot; from 4.8 to 3 for those fully vaccinated with no booster; and 8.3 to 5.5 or those not fully vaccinated.
The number of fully vaccinated residents in Orange County rose from 2,441,941 last week to 2,443,437, according to data released Thursday. That number includes an increase from 2,285,767 to 2,287,201 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 156,174 to 156,236. Booster shots increased from 1,217,204 to 1,222,416.
In the most recently eligible age group of 5 to 11 years old, the number of children vaccinated increased from 82,166 to 83,724, versus 184,856 who have not been vaccinated. It's the least vaccinated age group in Orange County. The next-least vaccinated eligible age group is 25 to 34, with 323,383 inoculated and 136,013 who have not received a shot.
The age group that has received the most booster shots is 55 to 64.