County headed for another viral winter, as flu, COVID-19 hospitalizations surge

Attendees of Huntington Beach's annual Light A Light of Love ceremony Sunday on the city's pier.
Attendees of Huntington Beach’s annual Light A Light of Love ceremony Sunday on the city’s pier mask up as Orange County COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations surge once more.
(James Carbone)

County health officials are bracing for what looks like another winter coronavirus surge as the number of residents hospitalized with COVID-19 has continued to climb since Thanksgiving weekend, reaching levels not seen since February.

And as Los Angeles County officials consider the wisdom of returning to an indoor mask mandate, one UC Irvine professor said he believes Orange County denizens who want to avoid becoming infected this holiday season should do the same.

The Orange County Health Care Agency reported Thursday 388 infected patients were being treated, with 48 individuals in intensive care, a 72% increase in hospitalizations since officials released data one week ago and nearly 250% jump over one month earlier.

And that’s just COVID-19 — the flu and respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, are increasing the burden placed on hospital emergency and intensive care units. On Nov. 1, Orange County officials declared a health emergency, claiming infections had pushed pediatric hospitalizations and daily emergency room visits to peak levels.

Andrew Noymer, an epidemiologist and UC Irvine associate professor of population health and disease prevention, told City News Service circumstances seemed to portend a pernicious winter ahead.

“We’re back to [COVID] levels not seen since last winter, the tail end of the Omicron wave, and we’re heading into another winter wave,” he said Thursday. “I think there are staffing shortages affecting Orange County, too.

“The best thing people can do is mask in indoor spaces like the mall or the grocery store,” Noymer added. “Christmas will be more fun if people aren’t sick.”

Meanwhile, although OCHA reports more than 2.36 million people countywide are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, about 40% of those individuals have not received a single booster shot, let alone the bivalent formulation of the vaccine recommended by the Food and Drug Administration for protection against the virulent omicron variant of the virus.

California Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly held an impromptu news conference Tuesday to discuss recent troubling trends seen statewide, sharing that the number of virus-infected patients in California hospitals doubled in the last three weeks — from 2,094 to 4,321 as of Tuesday — according to the Los Angeles Times.

He predicted the number of Californians hospitalized with either COVID-19 or the flu could reach 10,000 by late December or early January.

“We are hearing from more concerned health systems and watching the data closely,” Ghaly said.

City News Service contributed to this report.

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