More than 6,000 Orange County residents have now been killed by COVID-19, nearly two years into the pandemic and during the fourth surge. 

As of Wednesday, the virus has killed 6,006 people, including 28 new deaths reported Wednesday, according to the OC Health Care Agency.

“Unfortunately we hit a grim milestone today … we have now reached 6,006 OC residents who died from COVID. That is so unfortunate and this is why it’s still so very important for everyone to continue their efforts to protect themselves and their loved ones,” said deputy OC Health Officer Dr. Regina Chinsio-Kwong in a Wednesday afternoon news briefing. 

Newly reported deaths can often stretch back weeks, meaning the 28 people reported dead didn’t all die on the same day. 

Doctors are still treating a large number of virus patients in hospitals – an overwhelming majority of whom are unvaccinated. 

[Read: OC Hospitals Wrestle With High Number of COVID Patients as Fourth Surge Might Be Peaking]

Public health experts say residents can expect deaths to keep rolling in becauses virus fatalities lag behind other measuring sticks, like case positivity rates and hospitalizations. 

“We won’t have all the January deaths tallied until mid-March, let’s say. There’s just a long delay in tallying deaths – it is what it is. And it is unfortunate,” said UC Irvine epidemiologist Andrew Noymer in a Wednesday phone interview. 

Chinsio-Kwong urged residents to get their vaccinations and booster shots and said the current surge has produced more cases “than any other surge we’ve experienced throughout this pandemic.”

As of Wednesday, Orange County sat at a 21% testing positivity rate, according to state data.

That’s down from roughly 27% earlier this month, but still high public health experts warn. 

“By the time it’s all said and done, the January wave will look a lot like the August wave in terms of mortality, I believe,” Noymer said. 

According to OC Health Care Agency data, the virus killed 182 residents throughout August.

Chinsio-Kwong also said the fourth wave’s deaths could mirror the surge from last August. 

“You have to realize that the sheer number of COVID cases with this surge is so much higher than any other surge we have experienced. So it might be a possibility we still see the same number of deaths [as] in the fall,” she said during Wednesday’s news briefing.

She also said 67 people have died this month, with a majority – 43 people – not vaccinated. 

The other 24 deaths, Chinsio-Kwong said, included 19 vaccinated people without boosters and five vaccinated people who had boosters. 

“A majority of the cases who were fully vaccinated with the booster were older in age,” she added. 

As of Wednesday, 1,086 people were hospitalized in OC, including 179 in intensive care units, according to the county Health Care Agency.

That’s down from roughly 1,200 people hospitalized earlier this month.

Noymer said it’s likely the Omicron wave has crested. 

“It looks like we’ve peaked – the gloom and doom is that the mortality numbers are starting to come in. But the good news is that I think we have peaked at least in this current wave of Omicron. This is not the last we’ve heard of COVID. COVID is not going to ride off into the sunset when this wave falls. Like the Terminator, it will be back,” he said.

But, Noymer warns, there’s still a considerable amount of people in hospitals. 

“Omicron is milder than Delta, but I would remind your readers that with Delta, we had 400 some-odd people in the hospital [last summer] and now we have over 1,000. So there’s milder, then there’s just more than double the number of patients. So you can’t have that many people in the hospital without some deaths – if we’re talking about COVID,” he said. 

Chinsio-Kwong also said current deaths and high hospitalizations stem from the fact that Omicron is incredibly more contagious than previous variants.

“You have to realize that the sheer number of COVID cases with this surge is so much higher than any other surge we have experienced. So it might be a possibility we still see the same number of deaths in the fall.” 

Spencer Custodio is a Voice of OC staff reporter. You can reach him at scustodio@voiceofoc.org. Follow him on Twitter @SpencerCustodio

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