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900 cases in one day. Merced County sets new COVID-19 case record, as omicron spreads

·4 min read

Merced County’s COVID-19 case curve skyrocketed to unprecedented heights Thursday, the Merced County Department of Public Health’s latest data update showed on Friday.

A record 902 new infections were tallied to the region’s running total.

The previous all-time high was 680 cases on Saturday, representing an increase of more than 220 cases from the prior record.

Thursday’s spike marked the fourth time in the last seven days that Merced County’s daily case counts shattered records. New daily cases climbed to newfound peaks three days in a row last week.

Over 4,000 additional COVID-19 cases have been reported by County Public Health in one week. One additional COVID-19-related death was reported by County Public Health on Thursday, bringing total local deaths due to the pandemic to 721. Eleven fatalities were counted in the past week.

In all, 53,120 known cases in Merced County have been tallied since the pandemic’s start. An estimated 5,747 of those cases are currently active.

Cases among people age 17 or younger account for 2,252 of all estimated active cases. Just seven days ago, that number was 480.

The concerning state of COVID-19 in the Merced community is also evident in the rapid growth of other key metrics. New daily cases per 100,000 residents more than doubled in a week, rising to 104.1 on Thursday.

The community’s testing positivity rate nearly doubled to 27.3 in the same period. That means almost a third of COVID-19 tests indicated positive results over the last seven days.

Omicron poses risk to the unvaccinated, hospitals

The abrupt ascent in COVID-19 cases throughout Merced County, California and the nation is largely attributed to the highly contagious omicron variant’s spread. It is estimated by the California Department of Public Health to be two to four times more transmissible than the previously dominant delta variant.

Research appears to show that omicron sends a lower proportion of infected people to hospitals with severe illness compared to delta. But because the variant is so infectious, health officials warn that it still poses a serious risk to health care systems — especially as many individuals throughout parts of California, like Merced County, remain unvaccinated against COVID-19.

Unvaccinated individuals are nearly four times more likely to contract COVID-19 compared fully vaccinated people, eight times more likely to be hospitalized and nearly 21 times more likely to die, according to the CDPH.

Merced County fell just short of 50% of its eligible population vaccinated on Thursday. The statewide average was reported by the CDPH to be about 72%.

Meanwhile, state data reported that just two of the county’s intensive care unit beds were available as of Thursday. The Valley’s regional ICU capacity stood at 13.3%.

Patients actively hospitalized due to severe cases of the virus numbered 45 on Thursday, up from 37 last week.

How are Merced County hospitals weathering omicron?

Healthcare officials across the state have cautioned residents to exercise precaution against omicron by wearing an effective mask indoors, social distancing and getting vaccinated against COVID-19. These measures aid in guarding individuals against the virus and protecting hospitals from becoming overwhelmed, healthcare experts say.

Dr. Joerg Schuller, vice president of medical affairs at Mercy Medical Center Merced, told the Sun-Star that the current COVID-19 surge has yet to hit the hospital as hard as previous peaks.

“So far it’s not as bad, but we’re early into this latest surge,” Schuller said. “We have quite a few weeks left ahead of us and only time will tell how it compares ultimately.”

Mercy Medical Center has so far been able to care for the critically ill, even when ICU beds capacity is thin.

Staff too is coping and has had sufficient access to personal protection equipment and other necessary supplies, Schuller said. The hospital hired new recruits to maintain staffing levels.

Mercy Medical Center staff have noted a shift in who is getting sick, Schuller said. Younger individuals in their 30s to 50s, as well as some in their 20s, with fewer health issues have been recently hospitalized for severe illness.

Some ended up in the ICU and some died, he said, noting that most ICU patients are unvaccinated.

“Vaccination is still the number one protection against the virus, along with wearing a mask and social distancing,” Schuller said. “Youth and good health are not a guarantee you won’t get ill with the virus.”

Schuller underscored the highly fluid and unpredictable nature of the pandemic.

“We have to make sure as a population that we take the preventive steps of spreading the virus and it’s nothing complicated,” he said. “Handwashing, masking and social distancing go a long way and they are as important now as they were in the beginning.”

Information about receiving a COVID-19 vaccine or test is available on the Merced County Department of Public Health’s website.

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