Ventura County's COVID-19 infection rate rose again Tuesday, but there are signs the alarming climb could be nearing its peak, a health official said Tuesday.
"The hope is it will start to plateau by the end of the week," said Rigoberto Vargas, the county's public health director.
The infection rate has rocketed since the holidays, but the pace appears to be slowing. State public health data posted Tuesday showed the county's rate had only inched up from Monday's posting, from an average of 248.9 cases a day per 100,000 people to 251.1 cases a day. The metric is calculated on a 7-day lag.
On Wednesday, the case rate fell for the first time since the omicron surge began, to an average of 241.6 cases a day per 100,000 people.
The percentage of COVID-19 tests that come up positive has also fallen slightly to 22.4% in Ventura County, bringing more hope. Projections from the University of Washington suggest COVID-19 cases across California could peak as soon as Wednesday.
Though encouraging, reaching a peak would not mean the danger has ended, said George Rutherford, an epidemiologist at UC San Francisco. He characterized the peak as a midway point.
"It doesn't mean it will go to zero tomorrow," Rutherford said. "It’s a good sign, but we still have half the cases in front of us."
Vargas cited an "R-effective" metric that estimates how many people will be infected by each person who has COVID-19. In Ventura, the metric stood at 0.7 as of Tuesday, suggesting the spread is decreasing.
The rise and fall of COVID-19 is nearly impossible to predict, Vargas said. He cautiously expressed hope the county's peak will be followed by a plateau of just a few days, then a descent as "sudden and noticeable" as the surge's rise.
COVID-19 hospitalizations remain high, exerting pressure on hospitals already packed with patients. As of Tuesday, 341 COVID-19 patients were receiving care across the county with some admitted for other conditions and then diagnosed with the coronavirus.
At least 48 patients were receiving intensive care, up from 30 on Friday.
The flood of COVID patients is expected to remain high through February, challenging the capacities of hospitals across the state that are already struggling with staffing shortages, said Carmela Coye, president of the California Hospital Association.
"This is going to be unprecedented and it’s going to be overwhelmingly difficult," she said in a press conference last week.
The emergence of the highly contagious omicron variant has accelerated the demand for COVID-19 tests. On Tuesday, Fulgent Genetics partnered with the county in opening two new free testing sites, each designed to serve 2,000 people a day.
The sites at 1400 Vanguard Drive in Oxnard and 7075 Campus Road in Moorpark will begin their normal 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. schedule Wednesday. They will be open six days a week and closed Monday.
The sites offer PCR tests with results expected within 24 hours. Appointments are recommended and can be made at vc.fulgentgenetics.com.
For information on other test sites in the county, see venturacountyrecovers.org/coronavirus-testing/.
Tom Kisken covers health care and other news for the Ventura County Star. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 805-437-0255.
SUPPORT LOCAL JOURNALISM: To see more stories like this, subscribe here.
This article originally appeared on Ventura County Star: Ventura County COVID-19 surge may reach its peak, health official says