SANTA ANA (CNS) - Orange County Health Care Agency officials have reported seven more COVID-19 fatalities, raising the death toll to 250, including 33 this week.
Since June 5, 76 people have died from the disease caused by the coronavirus in Orange County.
The agency also reported 132 new cases Thursday, raising the total to 9,292. Of the total fatalities, 128 were residents of skilled nursing home facilities, up from 124 on Wednesday.
The number of people hospitalized with the coronavirus increased from 328 on Wednesday to 345 Thursday, with patients in intensive care rising from 131 to 144.
The state Department of Public Health on Thursday issued new guidelines mandating face coverings in most situations while indoors, but also outside when a person cannot maintain six feet of social distance.
There are exemptions that include children age 2 and younger because of the risk of suffocation, and for people with a variety of medical or psychological issues that make mask-wearing a hazard.
Orange County Sheriff Don Barnes said in a statement he would not make any efforts to enforce the mandate.
“It is each person's responsibility to wear a face covering, and follow other recommended safeguards, in order to stop the spread of COVID-19,'' Barnes said. “It is not law enforcement's responsibility to enforce it.''
Barnes said he expects residents to “continue to use common sense approaches for the benefit of their own health, as well as the collective health of other county residents.''
“We must do what is necessary to stop the transmission of COVID-19, enabling us to further open remaining businesses, places of recreation, and the hospitality industry,'' Barnes said.
Dr. Clayton Chau, the Health Care Agency director and interim chief health officer, who rolled back a previous county mandate for facial coverings, said recent research shows they are effective at slowing the spread of COVID-19.
“The mask is to protect others, to protect your neighbors,'' Chau said. “And from a public health point of view we want to protect our neighbors.''
Supervisor Lisa Bartlett told City News Service the state issued the mandate because “the governor is watching what's happening in other states that have opened up their economies prior to California opening up its economy - - Arizona, Texas and Florida -- and those states are experiencing significant increases in COVID-19 and hospitalizations. Therefore, I think the governor decided that he needed to change the face covering policy for California in order to reduce the spread of COVID-19.''
Bartlett noted, “We are still experiencing a number of hospitalizations and deaths from skilled nursing facilities'' and “community transmission is also on the rise'' in the county.
“If we continue to have spikes in positivity rates and hospitalizations one of my greatest fears is we would have to potentially shut down our economies again,'' Bartlett said.
Chau said the “hot spots'' of Santa Ana and Anaheim “keep me up at night'' with concern. He said about two weeks ago a task force was formed among officials with the county and both cities to discuss ways to tackle the rising case counts in Santa Ana and Anaheim.
Orange County Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Michelle Steel said at a news conference officials were “reviewing'' the order. Then Steel told reporters she had “good news'' that on Friday nail salons, massage parlors, tattoo shops and other like services will be open again to the public.
The state last Friday authorized the reopening of nail salons on June 19. Workers and customers will be required to wear face coverings, according to the state guidelines.
Steel downplayed the rising hospitalization and death rates and noted that half of the fatalities are from nursing homes. Steel also said the hospitalization rates are below the state standards.
Chau said the county's hospitalization rate is 10.2 per 100,000 population, about the same as San Bernardino County and below Los Angeles County's 13.8 per 100,000. Sixty-four percent of the county's hospital beds are occupied, Chau said.
The Orange County Labor Federation held a news conference calling on the county to reinstate its face-covering mandate, which was rolled back last week to “strongly recommended.'' Westminster City Councilman Sergio Contreras, who is running for a Board of Supervisors seat, also called on the county to require masks.
As of Wednesday, the county reported that 1,105 patients in nursing homes had tested positive for COVID-19 and 611 employees were infected. There have been outbreaks in 29 skilled nursing facilities and 11 assisted living facilities. An outbreak is defined as at least two coronavirus cases within the past two weeks.
The county has reported 4,496 documented recoveries.
Santa Ana leads all county cities with 1,994 cases, followed by Anaheim with 1,784. Their high numbers are attributed to large populations and the presence of multiple nursing homes in both cities. Santa Ana and Anaheim are Orange County's two largest cities in population.
An outbreak at an Anaheim fire station that officials declined to
identify has sickened seven firefighters who have contracted COVID-19 since May 27, city spokesman Mike Lyster said. Three have recovered and returned to work, two are recovering at home, and two others are hospitalized, including one who is in intensive care on a ventilator, Lyster said.
The Orange County Sheriff's Department reported Tuesday that 389 inmates have tested positive for COVID-19 since the pandemic began, with 382 having recovered and five currently showing symptoms. Sheriff's officials are awaiting results of 27 tests.
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