SANTA ANA (CNS) - As the death toll from COVID-19 in Orange County increased by four, officials announced a partnership with UC Irvine to conduct a survey to get a better handle on coronavirus-related statistics that could help with quarantine programs and easing of restrictions.
UCI researchers will use serology tests of 5,000 residents to see if they have developed antibodies as a result of infection. The aim is to better focus on at-risk populations and to understand how long immunity to COVID-19 may last.
UCI Assistant Professor of Public Health and Epidemiology Daniel Parker said the effort will create a baseline of data that can be used if other surveys are done later.
``We want to get a snapshot of how many people have been exposed to it in the community,'' Parker said. ``It gives us how many people were asymptomatic, and to start with that's useful in itself if it's a really big number.''
Orange County so far has been ``relatively lucky'' when compared to other Southland counties, Parker said.
``My hunch is there will be some immunity, but it won't last forever,'' he said.
To plan the next steps needed to manage the virus, officials need to know how many people have been exposed to it, Parker said.
The four fatalities announced Friday brings the county's coronavirus death toll to 84. Another 158 cases were also reported, bringing the cumulative total of COVID-19 diagnoses in the region to 4,125.
The Orange County Health Care Agency also reported that the number of hospitalized patients dropped from 227 on Thursday to 212, with intensive care unit patients dipping from 79 to 78.
The 229 newly confirmed cases reported Thursday marked the highest daily number since the pandemic began, but officials said it appears that most of the cases are coming out of outbreaks at skilled nursing facilities and because of ramped-up testing at those locations and in the county's jails, not from community spread elsewhere such as on the recently reopened beaches.
The total number of people in the county tested for the virus now stands at 66,267, with 1,017 tests reported Friday.
The Orange County Sheriff's Department reported 335 inmates have contracted COVID-19 since the pandemic began, but only 10 are currently sick from the virus, 135 have recovered and others are asymptomatic. Sheriff's officials are awaiting the results of 77 tests.
As of Wednesday, skilled nursing home facilities had seen 492 residents test positive for COVID-19 with 27 dying, while 236 staff workers have tested positive for coronavirus and one has died. Seventeen of the county's nursing home facilities have recorded more than two coronavirus cases.
At Windsor Gardens Convalescent Center of Anaheim on Ball Road, near Knott Avenue, 68 patients have contracted COVID-19, and 16 staffers have tested positive, according to Anaheim officials. At Anaheim Healthcare Center on Beach Boulevard, 52 patients have tested positive, and 20 staffers have contracted the virus, with four patients dying there.
At Harbor Villa Care Center on Harbor Boulevard, near Ball Road, eight patients and five staffers have tested positive for coronavirus, according to Anaheim officials. And at West Anaheim Extended Care on Beach Boulevard, five patients and one staffer have tested positive, city officials said.
Outside of Anaheim, the state Department of Public Health has a tally of patients and healthcare workers affected, but does not provide exact numbers for cases under 11.
At Alamitos West Health and Rehab Center, located at 3902 Katella Ave. in Los Alamitos, less than 11 healthcare workers have tested positive and none have died, while 40 patients have tested positive and less than 11 have died, according to state figures.
At French Park Care Center, at 600 E. Washington Ave. in Santa Ana, less than 11 healthcare workers and 27 patients have tested positive.
At Huntington Valley Healthcare Center, 8382 Newman Ave. in Huntington Beach, 15 healthcare workers and 26 patients have tested positive. Less than 11 of those patients have died at the facility, but no healthcare workers.
Orange County CEO Frank Kim said the county's hospitalization rates are ``still good overall,'' but the numbers have trended up due to the outbreaks in skilled nursing home facilities in the county, most notably in Anaheim and Huntington Beach.
The state opened up four testing sites in Buena Park, Orange, Santa Ana and San Juan Capistrano. This will increase the county's testing capacity by 2,640 weekly.
The county is working on increasing testing as it develops a program that includes contact tracing of symptomatic residents, but it has been difficult to get testing approved for many people, Supervisor Lisa Bartlett said.
``I think it's because doctors were working on such strict CDC guidelines for awhile,'' restricting tests, which were in short supplies, to severely ill patients, Bartlett said.
``We have the capacity to test 9,000 a day,'' Bartlett said, adding the county has fallen well short of that number.
``We're testing everyone who comes forward asking to be tested and has doctor's certifications,'' she said.
But to get to capacity, ``we would literally have to pull people off the streets,'' Bartlett said. ``And that's not appropriate. We want to test everyone who feels they should be tested and a doctor feels should be tested.''
Ultimately, testing of asymptomatic residents will be important to develop of a comprehensive program that will help health care officials quarantine where necessary, Bartlett said.
``It's important to have that data,'' she said.
The Orange County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday voted to adopt California Department of Public Health guidelines for expanding COVID-19 testing and to direct county staff to ramp up efforts to test more residents. The state updated its guidelines because of the availability of more tests.
The state has created two tiers for testing. Tier 1 applies to hospitalized patients, health care workers, first responders and social service employees whether they are sick or asymptomatic, residents 65 or older whether they are sick or not, or anyone with chronic medical conditions that make them vulnerable to coronavirus. The first tier also expands testing in skilled nursing and congregant facilities and for frontline workers in grocery stores and utilities.
The second tier is for lower-risk people who do not have symptoms.
Supervisor Don Wagner questioned why the county should be ramping up testing when there does not appear to be a great demand for it. But Supervisor Andrew Do, who is on the testing ad-hoc committee with Supervisor Doug Chaffee, said expanded testing will be particularly useful in reaching out to the ``underserved communities'' where the outbreaks are highest. Do said a UC Irvine study showed that Latinos in particular are being hard-hit by the virus.
Of the county's total cases, 3% involve people under 18 years old; 10% are 18-24; 18% are 25-34; 15% are 35-44; 17% are 45-54; 16% are 55-64; 10% are 65-74; 6% are 75-84; and 4% are 85 and older.
Of the patients who died, 2% were 25-34 years old, 5% were 35-44, 10% were 45-54, 13% were 55-64, 15% were 65-74, 31% were 75-84, and 24% were 85 or older.
Men make up 54% of the county's cases and 58% of its fatalities.
Latinos account for 39% of the fatalities and whites 32%, followed by Asians, 19%. According to the OCHCA, 4% were black, 1% were native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander, 1% are mixed race, 1% is unknown, and 2% fall into the category of ``other.''
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