Orange County’s COVID-19 hospitalizations continued a downward trend Friday, offering more potential evidence of a slowing of this summer’s Delta variant-fueled surge, but another 14 fatalities were logged, a dozen of which occurred in August.
The number of COVID-19 hospital patients dropped from 521 Thursday to 500 on Friday, with the number of intensive care unit patients dipping from 143 to 138.
The county had 19.9% of its ICU beds available and 66% of its ventilators as of Friday, according to the Orange County Health Care Agency.
“The numbers are looking good,” Andrew Noymer, an epidemiologist and UC Irvine professor of population health and disease prevention, told City News Service on Thursday. “The hospitalizations are down, the percent positive is down and there’s nothing to complain about.”
Noymer said he was “a little nervous” about the ICU numbers, “but they’re a little difficult to interpret. They used to predict mortality, but I’m not sure that holds up now.”
The average age of COVID-19 patients is skewing younger compared with the winter surge, so that could be contributing to a higher survival rate, Noymer said.
Public health experts consider hospitalizations the key metric to gauge the efforts to combat the spread of COVID-19. The three available vaccines get high marks in keeping recipients out of a hospital or experiencing serious illness.
The Orange County Health Care Agency reported Thursday that the county now has 2,019,321 fully vaccinated residents. Of those, 1,885,583 received the two-dose Pfizer or Moderna vaccines and 133,738 received the one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
Since 455,696 of the county’s residents are children up to 11 years old who are ineligible to receive shots, that leaves about 725,000 unvaccinated residents. The county also reported that 233,539 residents have received at least one dose of Pfizer or Moderna.
“It’s great. I love to see it,” Noymer said. “There’s plenty of bad news nationally about COVID, and I hope that will spur people to get vaccinated — everywhere, including Orange County.”
Orange County Supervisor Katrina Foley cheered the news.
“I think the increase in vaccination is our only way out and it is great to see we’ve overcome the two million mark,” she said.
The OCHCA reported 414 new COVID-19 cases Friday along with the 14 additional deaths, bringing the county’s cumulative totals to 286,950 cases and 5,250 fatalities.
A dozen of the fatalities occurred in August, raising the death toll for the month to 73, which stands in contrast with July’s 17 deaths. August marks the first time since the winter surge there has been a month-over-month increase in fatalities in Orange County.
One of the fatalities reported Friday was in April and the other was Dec. 14.
The death toll for June was 15, with 23 fatalities in May, 45 in April, 199 in March, 615 in February, 1,574 in January — the deadliest month of the pandemic — and 972 in December, the next-deadliest.
Deaths are the final lagging indicator, experts say, so it reflects the ultimate toll from this summer’s surge.
“Deaths are going in the wrong direction, but we’ll have to see what happens,” Noymer said.
Noymer said he does not expect fatalities to reach the levels seen during the winter surge because of the level of vaccinations.
Of the fatalities logged on Friday, one was in the 35 to 44 age range, three were 45 to 54 and two were in the 55 to 64 category.
According to weekly numbers released on Tuesdays, the county’s average daily case rate per 100,000 residents dropped from 22.2 last week to 18.6, while the testing positivity rate fell from 8% to 6.8%.
The county’s Health Equity Quartile rate, which measures the impact of the pandemic on disadvantaged communities, dropped from 8.4% to 7.3%.