Orange County Monday reported 734 new COVID-19 cases but no additional deaths, amid a continuing uptick in hospitalizations.
The county's cumulative case count stands at 78,553 and the death toll at 1,577.
The number of county residents hospitalized with the virus inched up from 597 on Sunday to 605, with the number of patients in intensive care declining slightly from 148 to 146, according to the Orange County Health Care Agency.
The change in the three-day average of hospitalized patients went from 13.6% to 17%. The last time hospitalization rates were this high was the end of July, and the last time ICU rates were this high was around Aug. 10.
The county has 26% of its intensive care unit beds and 62% of its ventilators available.
The mounting numbers over the holiday weekend seem to confirm officials' fears of a Thanksgiving-fueled surge. Orange County CEO Frank Kim said last 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 traveling or attending 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, said the recent election was responsible in part for the most recent surge and warned of a grim winter.
"I'm very apprehensive of the trends we're going to see after Thanksgiving,'' Noymer told City News Service last week. "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,'' he said. "I think it's going to get worse."
He predicted that at the end of this week, "we'll be back to July (levels). 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 last week and the positivity rate swelled from 4.6% to 6.8%. As of Monday, the adjusted daily case rate per 100,000 stood at 18.7 with a positivity rate of 7.6%.
The positivity rate still barely 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.
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 jumped from last week's 354.1 to 419.1, outstripping the county's goals for testing at this point, Kim said.
He said the county is focusing on encouraging testing. The number of tests conducted in the county was 1,452,198, including 7,015 reported Monday. There have been 59,783 documented recoveries.