SANTA ANA (CNS) - Orange County health officials have reported eight more COVID-19 fatalities and 137 new cases, along with a spike in hospitalizations, hiking the death toll to 158 and the cumulative coronavirus case total to 6,678.
The number of hospitalized patients increased from 240 to 279, and the number of patients in intensive care units climbed from 97 to 120, which local health officials said Wednesday is reflective of a switch over to a state health department system that mandates reports of patient numbers from hospitals. Previously, the county was using a system that was voluntary, so the numbers reflected most, but not all of the hospitals.
Seven of the eight latest fatalities involved skilled nursing home residents, as officials grapple with outbreaks at 26 skilled nursing homes, three assisted living facilities and two care homes. An outbreak is defined as having at least two coronavirus cases. County officials say a total of 70 deaths have involved skilled nursing home residents.
As of Wednesday, 867 nursing home residents have tested positive for coronavirus and 427 staffers have contracted the virus, increases of 81 and 46, respectively, since Monday.
Orange County's chief health officer told the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday that there has been an uptick in “community transmission'' of the coronavirus since stay-at-home orders have been relaxed.
Dr. Nichole Quick also defended her order to require masks for residents wherever they cannot maintain 6 feet of social distancing, after coming under fire from Supervisor Don Wagner.
“There is conflicting data out there'' on the necessity for face coverings, Wagner told Quick. “Does it change your view on the mask order?''
Quick -- who has been provided extra protection from law enforcement due to threats she's received over her stance on masks -- said wherever face covering orders were implemented, the rate of spread of the coronavirus went down.
“We are seeing an increase in community transmission,'' she said. “I also think our hospitalization rates have been trending up.''
Quick said it's important as more residents return to jobs in businesses that had been shut down during the pandemic that face coverings be used to help stop the spread of the coronavirus.
“It can help prevent the transmission of COVID-19. There is evidence to support that and I feel strongly we need a face covering order in place as we continue to send people out into more social interactions,'' Quick said.
The chief health officer said the masks were not a substitute for physical distancing, handwashing and staying home when sick. “But it's another preventive measure to help stop the spread of Covid in the community.''
Wagner said some residents have complained of “public shaming'' for not wearing a face covering and have been denied service in “pharmacies and other places. Is that an appropriate response to your mask policy?''
Quick replied, “I absolutely think people should not be shamed if they have a medical reason for not wearing a mask.''
Quick offered to boost public education about the mask order or to revise the language of it so it can be more easily understood.
When Wagner asked her how much longer it needed to be in place, Quick said, “Like all things in Covid, we evaluate the data and evidence on a daily basis... As long as we're seeing increasing numbers in the county... I feel the need for a face-covering mandate.''
Wagner said: “We're hearing from our citizens that this is government overreach. If we can't point to other governments responding in the same way ... doesn't that undermine the evidence behind your order?''
Quick said she did not want to discuss what other health officers in neighboring counties have shared with her in meetings amid the pandemic, but pointed out that San Diego and Los Angeles counties have issued face-covering orders.
Riverside and San Bernardino counties rescinded their mandatory mask-wearing orders.
Orange County Health Care Agency Director Clayton Chau jumped into the debate, saying, “People miss the point of the mask -- it's not to protect yourself. It's to protect other people, especially vulnerable people.''
Chau also noted that many residents have let the county know they support the mask order.
Supervisor Lisa Bartlett, who serves as president of the California State Association of Counties, said, “You have to look at each county separately.''
Bartlett said she understood the complaints from residents because a mask can become “stifling'' during a long shopping trip, but she noted there were 200 new coronavirus cases from community transmission on Monday.
“It's not like the trend is going down and we're reaching zero,'' Bartlett said. “To me, that's not a good number and I'd like to see that going down.''
She added: “The worst thing is we get a huge spike and have to shut down completely. That would be devastating to our businesses and residents, and from a medical perspective.''
The number of people tested for the virus in the county stands at 140,843, with 2,810 documented recoveries. The recovery rate is incomplete, however, as officials cannot trace every coronavirus case and its result.
Photos: Getty Images