SANTA ANA (CNS) - The Orange County Health Care Agency today reported four more COVID-19 fatalities, raising the death total to 202.
The county on Thursday also reported 260 new coronavirus cases, raising the total to 7,987. The number of people hospitalized dropped from 306 on Wednesday to 294, while the number of patients in intensive care dipped from 146 to 142.
The number of fatalities involving skilled nursing facility residents increased from 92 to 94. The agency has reported 25 such deaths over the past three days.
According to the HCA, there have been outbreaks in 28 skilled nursing facilities, six in assisted living facilities, and in two care homes. An outbreak is defined as more than two cases.
As of Wednesday, 979 residents of the nursing homes had contracted COVID-19, and 505 staffers had been infected, according to the county.
The number of people tested for the virus in the county stands at 172,072, with 3,726 documented recoveries.
The Orange County Sheriff's Department reported that 385 inmates have contracted coronavirus, with 362 having recovered, as of Wednesday. A dozen inmates are currently sick with the virus and officials are awaiting test results for 51 inmates.
The rising death toll hits as the health care agency has been roiled by defections from its executive staff.
Dr. Clayton Chau, the HCA's director, was named the county's chief health officer on Tuesday following the abrupt resignation of Dr. Nichole Quick, who had faced intense pressure over her order requiring face coverings to help prevent the spread of coronavirus.
Quick, who had held the job since last June and had also been assuming some responsibilities of the director of public health services, resigned Monday night after drawing criticism from some residents and two members of the Board of Supervisors who had repeatedly grilled her publicly regarding her order to require face coverings as the county allowed some businesses to reopen. Chau was named to his new position by the county Board of Supervisors on Tuesday.
Quick had been receiving heightened security due to threats stemming from her mask order. Protesters brought a poster with her photo embellished with a Hitler mustache and swastikas to a Board of Supervisors meeting last month.
Orange County CEO Frank Kim said Tuesday that he was “disappointed she left, but certainly there was no encouragement from myself or the board members to resign. That was a decision she made on her own.''
Kim said multiple members of his staff have been threatened since the beginning of the pandemic.
“I'm frustrated by that,'' Kim said. “None of our staff deserves that treatment.''
Quick's resignation marked the second major and abrupt departure in Orange County since the pandemic began. David Souleles retired in April as the HCA's deputy director of public health services.
Supervisor Doug Chaffee said Quick resigned because “it was too much for her.''
“She has three young children and she's been severely criticized by people who came out demanding her resignation, demonstrations in front of her home,'' he said Monday night.
Chaffee noted that for all the residents who show up at board meetings to complain about the mask order, officials have received a great deal of expressions of support for it.
“The email is 10-to-one to keep it,'' he said.
Nearly 100 residents lined up to speak out against the mask and stay-at-home orders at Tuesday's supervisors meeting, where several board members peppered Chau with questions about the necessity of the face-covering order and how much longer it would need to be in place.
Chau is expected to modify the mask mandate to make it a “strong recommendation'' before the end of today.
While defending the mandate on Tuesday, Chau said he was concerned about outbreaks stemming from the widespread protests against police brutality throughout the county. He said then that the mask order should remain in place for another three weeks to see if there is an uptick that exceeds state standards as the county reopens businesses on Friday.
Chau reiterated that the masks are not meant to protect the wearer, but to help keep them from spreading the highly contagious virus to others, particularly the elderly and those with underlying health conditions.
Chau said the rate of new cases and the ability to handle a surge of patients in the county's hospitals are the two key metrics he is tracking. He wants to remain below the state standard of 8% of positive cases per 100,000 population. The county's current rate is 4.6%.
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