More people were hospitalized in Merced County due to COVID-19 on Wednesday than any point in the last year, according to state numbers released Thursday.
Wednesday’s 63 hospitalizations were topped just over a year ago on Jan. 17, 2021, when 64 patients were hospitalized locally. The county’s highest recorded number of hospitalizations during any point in the pandemic was 67 patients on Dec. 20, 2020.
The data released Thursday also showed that only one intensive care unit bed was available county-wide. Thirteen of the 63 total COVID-19 patients were being cared for in the ICU.
The return to elevated COVID-19 hospitalizations underscores the gravity of healthcare officials’ recent warnings about the omicron variant.
Although research appears to show that the omicron variant sends a lower proportion of infected people to the hospital compared to the delta variant, the new variant’s highly infectious nature poses a serious risk to health care systems, health officials say.
That risk is especially heightened in communities, like Merced County, where vaccination against COVID-19 remains low compared to other areas of the state.
Less than 50% of eligible Merced County residents are fully vaccinated against the virus, according to the Merced County Department of Public Health. Statewide, vaccination is about 72%, according to the California Department of Public Health.
Dr. Joerg Schuller, vice president of medical affairs at Mercy Medical Center Merced, told the Sun-Star last week that a majority of patients in the ICU due to COVID-19 are unvaccinated.
Unvaccinated people are nearly four times more likely to contract COVID-19 compared to fully vaccinated people, six times more likely to be hospitalized and nearly 18 times more likely to die, according to the most recent CDPH data.
Schuller said last week that the current COVID-19 wave had yet to hit Mercy Medical Center Merced as hard as previous peaks. However, Schuller warned at the time that the omicron surge was not over, meaning it’s too early to tell how the highly infectious variant will ultimately play out at Merced County hospitals.
Active hospitalizations have risen by 25 patients in the week since.
Meanwhile, the 12-county San Joaquin Valley region’s overall ICU capacity is lower than any other region at 10% as of Wednesday. The statewide average is 16.3%.
The situation has been so dire in some places that 10 hospitals and other medical facilities in the central San Joaquin Valley sent out an S.O.S. message on Saturday, begging for the public to get vaccinated.
In the post, a 30-second video begins with an “S.O.S.” sign and says that hospitals are overwhelmed and emergency rooms pushed toward disaster levels.
Healthcare officials across the state have called on residents to be vigilant against omicron by wearing an effective mask indoors, social distancing and getting vaccinated in order to guard one’s self and others against the virus, as well as protect hospitals from becoming overwhelmed.
Latest Merced County COVID numbers
As COVID-19-hospitalizations rise in Merced County, so, too, do the daily number of new daily infections and pandemic-related deaths.
The number of COVID-19 cases ending in death rose by 12 between this Wednesday and last, County Public Health reported. Total known deaths in the county due to COVID-19 count 732 since the pandemic’s start.
Daily infections this week have yet to break records like they did several times last week, when a new peak topped out at an all-time high of 927 cases recorded Friday. Number have stayed high since, with the most recent data release showing 869 new cases confirmed Wednesday.
The 5,109 new infections tallied between this Wednesday and last have bolstered the county’s running case count to 57,327 since the pandemic’s start.
Young residents age 17 and under account for 2,868 of all active infections — an increase of almost 1,000 pediatric cases since last Wednesday.
An estimated 8,714 of those cases are active. One week ago, the count was 5,048.
With a local testing positivity rate of 33%, over a third of COVID-19 tests in Merced County have returned positive in the last week. Statewide, it’s about 20%.
The county’s number of new daily cases per 100,000 residents about doubled in the last week from 90 to 183 on Wednesday. The statewide metric is even higher at 256 cases per 100,000 residents.
Information about receiving a COVID-19 vaccine or test is available on the Merced County Department of Public Health’s website.