By CBSLA Staff

SANTA ANA (CBSLA) — Orange County’s COVID-19 hospitalizations — a key metric used in determining more reopenings  — dropped again Friday.

The number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 decreased down from 213 on Thursday to 206 Friday as the number of patients in intensive care dropped from 49 to 44.

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“The ICU numbers dropped again, but the hospital beds are a little above 200, so it popped a little bit” from a couple days prior when it dropped below 200, said Orange County CEO Frank Kim.

Kim said the small upticks and declines have been typical over the past month and a half.

“A lot of it has to do with when they did the patient survey,” Kim said. “But an increase is still an increase and we prefer not to see it.”

Andrew Noymer, a UC Irvine professor of population health and disease prevention, said that hospitalization rates are the key metric for the public to watch.

“As cases fall and testing goes up the case rates can be deceptively misleading,” Noymer said Thursday. “The hospitalizations is what you really want to look for… and they’re going in the right direction.”

Noymer also mentioned t intensive care unit numbers in the county haven’t been below 50 in months.

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“The number one predictor of deaths is people in the ICU — like a few weeks prior,” Noymer said.

The case rate in Orange County as of Friday was 3.7 per 100,000 residents although that doesn’t automatically propel the county into the orange tier. Moving to the orange tier won’t happen until April 7 if the current trends continue unless the state approves an earlier date.

Meanwhile Friday, the Orange County Health Care Agency reported 127 new cases of COVID-19 and 14 additional deaths.

The numbers brought the county’s caseload to 249,308 and the cumulative death toll to 4,536.

Kim said he was a “little nervous” about another surge such as the one being reported in Europe.

“The goal is to get these vaccines done and that’s it,” Kim said.

Lines are appearing at some local pharmacies as vaccines are ramped up at drug store chains. County staff has estimated that the big drug store chains are vaccinating about 100 people a day in each location, Kim said.

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(© Copyright 2020 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. City News Service contributed to this report.)