Orange County reported 1,666 new cases of COVID-19 but no additional deaths Saturday, bringing the county's totals to 76,761 cases and 1,577 fatalities.
The huge number of new cases comes after the county reported 1,943 new cases and 18 additional deaths on Friday, but those numbers covered two days since there was no update Thursday due to the Thanksgiving holiday.
The number of county residents hospitalized with the virus increased from 506 Friday to 534, with the number of patients in intensive care dropping from 139 to 138, according to the Orange County Health Care Agency.
The change in the three-day average of hospitalized patients went from 16.8% to 12.3%. The county has 24.8% of its intensive care unit beds and 63.4% of its ventilators available.
The numbers that have come in over the holiday weekend seem to confirm officials' fears of a Thanksgiving-fueled surge. Orange County CEO Frank Kim said earlier this week that he was "very concerned" about the rise in cases and hospitalizations.
"And even though the various hospital (executives) I have conversations with seem more confident today than they were early on in the disease in how to treat it, I'm not taking any of it lightly," Kim said. "Any rise in hospitalizations and ICU rates is a significant concern for our community."
Officials recommend waiting at least two days after an event or gathering to get tested because the infection might not be detected right away.
Andrew Noymer, a UC Irvine associate professor of population health and disease prevention, warned of a grim winter.
"I'm very apprehensive of the trends we're going to see after Thanksgiving," Noymer told City News Service. "People don't appreciate that we were recording deaths from the summer wave through October."
Noymer predicted more cases than the July peak.
"But this is not just going to be like another July and go away," Noymer said. "I think it's going to get worse."
The last time hospitalization rates were this high was Aug. 10, Noymer said.
"At the end of next week we'll be back to July (levels)," Noymer said. "And will it crest like in July or keep getting worse. There's reasons to believe we could just keep getting worse."
Noymer said that's mainly because the colder weather is pushing people into more indoor activities and some students are still attending classes in classrooms.
The worst day for COVID-19 hospitalizations in Orange County was July 14, when there were 722 patients.
In the state's tiered monitoring system, which is updated on Tuesdays, the county's adjusted daily case rate per 100,000 residents jumped from 10.8 to 17.2 and the positivity rate swelled from 4.6% to 6.8%.
The positivity rate fits in the red tier of the state's four-tier reopening roadmap, but the daily case rate per 100,000 is well past the 8% threshold for the most-restrictive purple tier.
The number of tests conducted in the county is 1,437,146, including 11,017 reported Saturday. There have been 59,266 documented recoveries.
Kim said he was optimistic vaccines are on the way and are scheduled to arrive by year's end. Hospital systems will get the vaccines directly and individual hospitals will receive doses from the county, Kim said.
Frontline health care workers will be among the first to receive vaccinations, along with people with underlying health conditions that make them especially vulnerable to the disease.
The hope is that increased testing and awareness of infections will encourage more quarantining and isolation and other social distancing practices that help curb the spread of the virus, Kim said.
The county's tests per 100,000 stands at 354.1, outstripping the county's goals for testing at this point, Kim said.