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Despite Rising Case Numbers, Orange County Hospitalizations Stabilize For First Time Since December

ORANGE COUNTY (CBSLA) — Orange County health officials expressed cautious optimism on Thursday, as both case numbers and hospitalizations in the region appear to be stabilizing over recent days.

Despite a continued rise in numbers, health officials are looking to the hospitalization rate as a point of reference in indicating that the peak of the most recent Coronavirus surge may be here.

On Wednesday, the county reported 1,071 patients hospitalized with COVID-19, and intensive care unit patients totaled 159. Thursday's reports showed an increase in each field, with 1,072 patients hospitalized, and 168 in intensive care. These numbers, despite their increase, are on a more stable level than the county has seen in nearly a month.

They've also experienced quite the dip in cases - nearly 2,700 less - from 11,092 to 8,440 from Thursday to Wednesday.

Some health officials, like Dr. Jim Keany of Providence Mission Hospital, are hopeful, "We are still in a dire situation, however, there is hope. ... I'd say over the last few days it does seem like the peak has sustained. So we're kind of plateaued at a completely unsustainable and out of control level right now."

Orange County Health Care Agency disclosed on Thursday that 19.2% of the region's hospital beds are available, along with 63% of its ventilators.

University of California, Irvine Professor Andrew Noymer shared in this forward-thinking when it comes to signs that the peak is here. "It's good hospitalizations have plateaued - I'll take that all day long," Noymer, a professor of population health and disease prevention as well as an epidemiologist, told City News Service on Thursday. "It's too early to do a victory lap," he continued, "I was pretty sure this summer Delta would peak higher than it did. I actually don't think that it is inconceivable that we're finding the peak, but just for one day - you've got to give me more than that."

More than 16,000 more Orange County residents became vaccinated in the last week, as numbers jumped from 2,341,562 to 2,357,761. Booster shot recipient totals also grew from 900, 815 to 975,937.

Other experts aren't as hopeful, including Orange County CEO Frank Kim, who on Wednesday said, "You can look at the data in two different ways. We continue to see increases in daily positivity and case numbers, but that is also a function of increased testing. I also think that's underreported because so many individuals have access to rapid testing." He noted that despite some patients "incidentally" being hospitalized with COVID, due to other health concerns that initially brought them to the hospital, the cases are still cause for worry. "When you get into the large numbers you have today it really doesn't matter. ... It's the general trend you have to look at. The hospital numbers are climbing and they haven't slowed down yet so it's concerning."

Dr. Nate Gilmore, Director of Intensive Care at Hoag Hospital in Newport Beach told CBS reporters that he is also concerned about where the county stands, especially with his own facility's ICU tally over 100. "We definitely have not had a peak yet," he said, "We all breath a little easier when we feel like we've reached a peak, and maybe we're close. I just don't want to hold my breath, and I know our hospital, and other hospitals have similar concerns - we don't really know exactly where the peak is going to be. We're worried that it's going to be higher than where we are now."

There are indications that while the peak may not be in the immediate future, it could be closer than many thought, as reports out of the United Kingdom suggest that the peak in their country has already come and gone.

"There is perhaps some evidence in other parts of the country, or the world, where the fact that this is such a rapidly-spreading disease - maybe it's going to have a shorter lifespan in terms of the duration of the Omicron surge. So, we're hoping that's borne out here locally as well," said Dr. Charles Bailey, the medical director of infection prevention at Providence St. Joseph Hospital and Providence Mission Hospital.

Los Angeles County's rates have also continued to rise over recent days, as the county reported it's second-highest positive case total since the beginning of the pandemic on Thursday.

(© Copyright 2022 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. City News Service contributed to this report.)

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