SANTA ANA (CBSLA) - The number of COVID-positive patients in Orange County hospitals declined slightly Tuesday, but the number of those patients in intensive care increased.
There are 1,197 people with the coronavirus in county hospitals, down from 1,202 on Monday, according to the Orange County Health Care Agency. But the number of COVID patients in the ICU was 199, up from 188 the previous day.
The county's percentage of available ICU beds has dropped to 16.5% and the percentage of available ventilators has fallen to 62%. Dr. Regina Chinsio-Kwong, the county's deputy health officer, has said that officials grow concerned when the percentage of ICU beds available drops below 20%.
Of those hospitalized, 86% are unvaccinated, and 87% of the ICU patients are not inoculated.
Hospitalizations have not been this high since Feb. 4 when there were 1,233 COVID-19 patients in the county. The last time ICU levels were this high for the virus was Feb. 19, when there were 219 ICU patients.
However, local hospital officials have not been complaining as much of late about a crush of residents besieging emergency rooms and urgent care facilities for COVID-19 tests after officials urged residents to avoid the heavily taxed system unless they have serious symptoms, Chinsio-Kwong said.
About one-third of patients coming to the county's emergency rooms are specifically complaining of COVID-19, Chinsio-Kwong said.
The issue of parsing direct cases of COVID-19 and "incidental cases" of patients with other maladies who test positive is "even more complex than first imagined," Chinsio-Kwong said. Some patients admitted for non-COVID illnesses have their symptoms exacerbated by the virus, she said.
The average drop-off time for patients was at 41 minutes and 25 seconds, with the seven-day average at 43 minutes and 22 seconds.
The county also reported 24,639 new positive COVID-19 tests Tuesday over the past four days, raising the cumulative total since the pandemic started to 455,314. The county logged 17 more fatalities since last week, upping the cumulative death toll to 5,938.
The agency does not report COVID data on weekends and did not update its data Monday due to the Martin Luther King Day holiday.
Three of the dead were skilled nursing facility residents, raising the death toll to 1,225 in that category. The death toll for assisted living facility residents stands at 647.
The county has COVID-19 outbreaks at 42 elderly assisted living facilities and 30 skilled nursing facilities, according to the OCHCA.
Of the deaths logged Tuesday, six occurred in January, boosting this month's death toll to 10. Eleven of the fatalities occurred last month, raising December's death toll to 76.
November's death toll stands at 103, October's at 127, September's at 196 and August's at 182.
In contrast, the death toll before the Delta variant fueled a summer surge was 31 in July, 19 in June, 26 in May, 47 in April, 202 in March and 620 for February.
January 2021 remains the deadliest month of the pandemic, with a death toll of 1,598, ahead of December 2020, the next deadliest with 985 people lost to the virus.
The county's adjusted daily case rate per 100,000 residents ballooned from 108 Friday to 208.9 Tuesday. The testing positivity rate inched up from 27.5% to 27.9%, and increased from 31% to 32% in the health equity quartile, which measures underserved communities hardest hit by the pandemic.
"We have to be realistic," Chinsio-Kwong said. "We're all going to be exposed to Omicron at some point ... so it's important to take precautions."
The number of fully vaccinated residents in Orange County reached 2,357,761, according to data released last Thursday. That number includes an increase from 2,189,337 the previous week to 2,205,067 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 152,225 to 152,694. Booster shots increased from 900,815 to 975,937.
In the relatively recently eligible age group of 5 to 11 years old, the number of children vaccinated increased from 46,791 to 52,803 versus 215,777 who have not gotten jabbed. It's the least vaccinated age group in Orange County. The next-worst vaccinated age group is 25 to 34, with 314,619 inoculated and 144,782 who have not gotten a shot.
In the 5 to 11 age group, 28% have received at least one dose, according to Chinsio-Kwong.
For parents still worried about side-effects of vaccines for their children, Chinsio-Kwong pointed to recent study showing that two doses of Pfizer "significantly reduced (multi-inflammatory syndrome following a COVID- 19 infection) by 91% versus those not vaccinated."
Another study showed that children are 2 1/2 times more likely to be diagnosed with diabetes following a COVID-19 infection if unvaccinated, she said.
The most vaccinated age group is seniors at 92%, Chinsio-Kwong said.
Chinsio-Kwong warned residents away from large-indoor gatherings for Lunar New Year, which occurs on Feb. 1.
"If you choose to gather it should be small and as much as possible try to have it outdoors and with people more up to date on vaccines," Chinsio- Kwong said.
"If you're going to eat with others then maintain a distance when not wearing a mask ... I wouldn't encourage people from different households gathering indoors."
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