Orange County Expanding COVID-19 Testing; 29 More Cases Reported

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SANTA ANA (CNS) - Orange County's coronavirus cases increased stand at 1,691 today, with no new deaths, as many more test kits were made available and county officials continued to discuss the best ways to handle the evolving pandemic.

The death toll, which had risen by 14 in just under a week, remains at 33. The number of hospitalized patients increased from 128 on Monday to 148 on Tuesday, with the number of intensive care patients increasing from 42 to 54.

Of the county's total cases, 2% involve people under 18 years old; 8% are between 18-24; 16% are between 25-34; 14% are between 35-44; 39% are between 45-64, and 21% are 65 or older. Men make up 52% of the county's cases and 61% of its fatalities.

Of the deaths, 6% were 25 to 34 years old, 3% were 35 to 44, 33% were 45 to 64, and 58% were 65 or older, according to the Orange County Health Care Agency. People of Asian descent accounted for 33% of the fatalities, while 27% were Latino, 27% were white, 6% were black, 3% were of unknown ethnicity and 3% were in the category of “other.”

The number of people tested for COVID-19 in the county stands at 19,483, with enough kits for 2,431 more specimens. Public and private labs did 717 tests since Monday.

Orange County's chief health officer, Dr. Nichole Quick, said health officials believe now that the “statewide stay-at-home order has been effective.”

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A key step in lifting restrictions is to increase testing, and OCHCA officials began a new network of tests for COVID-19 on Tuesday. David Souleles, deputy agency director of Public Health Services, has launched six testing sites spread out through the county. Initially, the county is expected to boost tests by 600 per day.

Residents who have symptoms related to coronavirus who lack insurance or cannot get a test through their health care provider can now go to AltaMed sites in Anaheim and Santa Ana as well as Nhan Hoa Comprehensive Health Care Clinic in Garden Grove and various UC Irvine Health sites.

“Our goal is to get 10 sites up and running in the next two weeks, so we can get up to 1,000 tests per day and then move onto 2,000 tests per day next month,” Souleles said.

Ultimately, the county is shooting to test about 640,000 residents.

County officials, who had been criticized last week by Supervisor Andrew Do for lagging other counties in testing, contracted with two laboratories and were able to obtain thousands of new test kits.

“We took your directive to heart to see what we could do to expand testing,” Souleles said at Tuesday's Board of Supervisors meeting.

Previously, only severely ill patients were being tested because of the scarcity of supplies, Souleles said, but “now we are opening it up to anybody who is symptomatic.”

The testing network uses kits that obtain a specimen used to diagnose the coronavirus. Blood tests that measure antibodies to see if someone has had COVID-19 and recovered from it will be tools to help with quarantining and contact tracing in the future, officials said.

The serology tests “will play a key role long-term in helping us understand herd immunity and how widely spread COVID-19 has been in our community, how many have experienced it and how many have been mildly symptomatic and asymptomatic,” Souleles said.

Quick said even when some restrictions are lifted, the most vulnerable, such as senior citizens, will be asked to continue adhering to stay- at-home orders.

“When we go back to loosening up stay-at-home orders we want to be able to identify a case as soon as there is one and then do” contact tracing, Quick said. “We can't just open this up and not see a rapid increase in cases,” Quick said. “The last thing we want to do is open the flood gates and watch our case counts go up uncontrolled.”

Quick also said the county is near an agreement with an academic institution to conduct a study of Orange County residents similar to ones done in Santa Clara and Los Angeles counties to get a handle on how many people are asymptomatic, and the degree of sickness of others. The surveyors will apply serology tests to 1,500 people from a variety of demographics, Quick said.

Orange County CEO Frank Kim said he is considering a program of renting out motel rooms for some indigent residents who live with a large family and cannot isolate themselves if they fall ill.

“They could put other family members and other individuals at risk,” Kim said.

An ad-hoc committee of Orange County Board Chairwoman Michelle Steel and Supervisor Don Wagner were meeting with business leaders on Tuesday to discuss relaxing quarantine restrictions.

The Orange County Board of Supervisors, meanwhile, voted 3-2 Tuesday to require face coverings for employees in many retail businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The face coverings will be required, beginning Friday, for employees interacting with the public in grocery, pharmacy and convenience stores, as well as gas stations, restaurants and other locations where food is prepared. Supervisors Lisa Bartlett and Doug Chaffee supported Supervisor Andrew Do's motion. Board Chairwoman Michelle Steel and Supervisor Don Wagner dissented.

The ordinance applies countywide. Cities can approve more restrictive laws, but cannot have one weaker than the county order.

Photo: Getty Images

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