Orange County reports 4,406 COVID-19 cases, drop in hospitalizations

FULLERTON, CA - DECEMBER 25: Registered Nurse Jacqueline Fiel, working with a covid positive patient inside the ICU at Providence St. Jude Medical Center Christmas Day on Friday, Dec. 25, 2020 in Fullerton, CA. (Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times via G

Orange County reported 4,406 new cases of COVID-19 and 26 additional deaths on Saturday, bringing the county's totals to 161,589 cases and 1,901 fatalities.

The number of people in county hospitals with the coronavirus was 2,097, a drop from the 2,128 people hospitalized as of Thursday and the 2,145 reported on Wednesday, according to the Orange County Health Care Agency. But the number of COVID-19 patients in intensive care rose to 501, an increase from
the 495 reported the previous day.

The numbers reported Saturday reflect data from Jan. 1, according to the Orange County Health Care Agency. No update will be reported Sunday due to
scheduled maintenance with California Department of Public Health.

The OCHCA reported 23,385 COVID-19 tests on Saturday, for a total of 2,076,496. There have been 91,679 documented recoveries.

The county's state-adjusted ICU bed availability remained at zero, and the unadjusted figure rose from 5.9% to 7.5%. The state created the adjusted metric to reflect the difference in beds available for COVID-19 patients and non-coronavirus patients.

The Southern California region is at zero ICU capacity.

Orange County has 39% of its ventilators available, according to the agency. All of the county's metrics continue to remain within the state's most-restrictive, purple tier of the four-tier coronavirus monitoring system.

RELATED: Stay up to date on all coronavirus-related information

Orange County's adjusted daily case rate per 100,000 -- released on Tuesdays -- increased from 51.8 last week to 53.5 this week. The positivity rate rose from 15.2% to 16.9%. The county's Health Equity Quartile Positivity Rate, which measures the cases in highly affected, needier parts of the county, rose from 22.7% last week to 24.2%.

Orange County CEO Frank Kim said earlier there was hope of a cresting of the Thanksgiving wave, thanks to recently declining testing positivity rate. But that rate actually rose slightly on Thursday, reaching 16.9%, from 16.5% Wednesday.

Health officials are bracing for a post-Christmas surge, followed by a potential New Year's wave. Experts say it takes five to 10 days for a surge to take shape.

RELATED: US Army Corps of Engineers working to upgrade oxygen delivery systems at SoCal hospitals

UC Irvine Medical Center activated its mobile field hospital with 40 additional beds on Wednesday. Andrew Noymer, a UC Irvine associate professor of population health and disease prevention, said it's hard to say if the county has reached its peak from Thanksgiving, but even so it's likely a Christmas surge is coming.

"We saw with Thanksgiving it took awhile to build,'' Noymer said. "I'm expecting January to be severe. We haven't seen the worst yet. But nobody can predict the future of this.'' Noymer noted that the county's positivity rate has been "highly volatile.''

With hospitalizations at such a high level, officials want to make use of the Fairview Developmental Center in Costa Mesa, but only six patients are currently being treated there. A total of 51 have been treated at the state facility, Kim said. Some of the obstacles to treating patients at Fairview include a shortage of staff needed for the beds there, he said.

Get your top stories delivered daily! Sign up for FOX 11’s Fast 5 newsletter. And, get breaking news alerts in the FOX 11 News app. Download for iOS or Android.

Outbreaks at the county's skilled nursing facilities and elderly assisted living facilities -- defined as two or more cases within 14 days -- are an ongoing problem for the county.

"We need to hurry up and inoculate those individuals and staff working with those individuals,'' Kim said. "The virus is coming in through the employees, so we need to get those employees vaccinated quickly.''

Transportation Security Administration figures for security screenings nationally reflect more traveling over Christmas than Thanksgiving. On the day before Christmas Eve, nearly 1.2 million screenings were done at U.S. airports, compared with 1.9 million on the same date in 2019. Preliminary data indicate that traffic at John Wayne Airport was down during Christmas compared with Thanksgiving.

From Nov. 24 through Nov. 30, 64,947 passengers passed through the Orange County airport for a daily average of 9,278. From Dec. 20-26, 60,193
passengers went through the airport for an average of 8,599 a day. Noymer said he is not as concerned about travelers contracting coronavirus at the airport or on a plane.

"More people pass through South Coast Plaza than the TSA checkpoint at John Wayne (Airport),'' Noymer said. "But we're churning the whole country,
moving people around from college kids from Overland, Ohio, going back to home and people going to see in-laws or grandmothers, or whatever. That's moving the virus around, increasing the motion and commotion of people and therefore of the virus and it's not what the doctor ordered.''