By CBSLA Staff

SANTA ANA (CBSLA) – Orange County’s COVID-19 hospitalizations continue to soar along with case rates, according to data released by the Orange County Health Care Agency.

The county’s hospitalization rate hasn’t been this high since Sept. 21. The number of hospitalizations jumped from 282 Monday to 322 Tuesday, with the number of intensive care unit patients remaining at 66.

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(CBSLA)

“Even I am shocked,” said Andrew Noymer, an epidemiologist and UC Irvine professor of population health and disease prevention who has been forecasting a winter surge.

“We were talking yesterday that maybe it could bounce back down to 200, but (the hospitalizations) are going like a skyrocket. 320 hospital cases is serious,” Noymer said.

“This is not the end of the world, but it is concerning,” he said. “I am officially concerned, and the issue is not so much that we haven’t seen this level before, it’s just that it’s heading in the wrong direction.”

The hospital levels are manageable at this point, Noymer said.

“It’s not something health services can’t handle,” he said.

As for whether K-12 students return to classrooms next week, Noymer said they should.

“We closed the schools in March 2020 because we didn’t know what was coming and there was no vaccine,” Noymer said. “I think we understand what’s coming and it’s going to be a not-fun Omicron wave — but the kids 5 and up can get vaccinated and so can their parents.

“As always, kids aren’t the ones who are going to get the sickest. It’s the adults…. So should we close schools next week? Not from what I’m seeing.”

So far, the county has officially sequenced four cases of Omicron, according to the OC HCA’s data.

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The adjusted daily case rate per 100,000 residents was 15 as of Tuesday, with the testing positivity rate at 4.5% and 4.4% in the health equity quartile which measures underserved communities hardest hit by the pandemic.

The county reported 987 more infections, raising the cumulative total to 330,012, and logged six more fatalities, raising the overall death toll to 5,883.

Of the fatalities logged Tuesday, five occurred this month, raising December’s death toll to 35. The other fatality occurred in October.

November’s death toll stands at 101, 127 for October, 196 for September and 182 for August.

In contrast, the death toll before the more contagious Delta variant fueled a summer surge was 31 in July, 19 for June, 26 for May, 46 for April, 202 for March and 620 for February.

January 2021 remains the deadliest month of the pandemic with a death toll of 1,596, ahead of December 2020, the next deadliest with 985 people lost to the virus.

The case rate per 100,000 residents for the unvaccinated was 30.9 as of Dec. 18, the most recent statistics available. That’s up from 25.4 on Dec. 11.

For the vaccinated, the case rate was 6.8, up from 3.8 as of Dec. 11.

The number of fully vaccinated residents in Orange County increased from 2,295,286 to 2,314,232, according to data released Thursday. That represents 67% of the county.

That number includes an increase from 2,144,648 to 2,162,816 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 150,638 to 151,416. The county had dispensed 768,412 booster shots as of that date.

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(© Copyright 2021 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. City News Service contributed to this report.)