SANTA ANA (CNS) - The Orange County Health Care Agency has reported 32 COVID-19 fatalities, raising the coronavirus death toll to 697, but the number of hospitalizations edged down and officials are optimistic the trends are heading in the right direction despite continuing deaths.
The 32 deaths reported Thursday -- the highest on a single day since the pandemic began -- actually all happened over the past couple of weeks, but tend to get clustered together at times because the reports come from many different sources. Not all of the deaths happened since Wednesday.
The worst single days the county has had in terms of COVID-19 deaths were July 7 and July 8 when 15 people died on each of those days. Before that, the record was June 24 when 15 people died.
Of Thursday's death toll, five were skilled nursing facility residents, three were assisted living facility residents and one was homeless. Since the pandemic began, 279 skilled nursing facility residents have died of COVID-19 in Orange County and 33 assisted living facility residents have succumbed to the virus.
Forty-eight fatalities have been reported since Sunday. The county logged 87 coronavirus deaths last week and 70 the week prior.
“If you look at the hospitalization numbers, the ICU rates peaked sometime around July and it has been trending steadily downward,'' county CEO Frank Kim told City News Service. “That's an encouraging sign. We've had a spike in hospitalization and ICU rates in the middle of July and both have been trending down since then. We think it's a positive sign and hopefully we're back down to a much more stable workable environment.''
It's difficult to prognosticate because there have been glitches withthe state's platform for reporting coronavirus case rates, Kim said. But officials are cautiously optimistic, he added.
Kim noted that the age group with the highest positivity rates are among young adults, who also are among the least vulnerable to deaths. The numbers of deaths stemming from nursing homes has been steadily trending down, Kim said.
“So hopefully we've reversed this trend'' of fatalities, Kim said.
Kim also noted that the demand for COVID-19 tests has also significantly trended down at the county's testing site at the Anaheim Convention Center.
“The demand for testing has gone way down,'' Kim said. “We've had a huge percentage of testing capacity and it's free and yet less people are using it than several weeks ago.''
County officials are discussing whether or not to open a second site at the fairgrounds in Costa Mesa since they can handle capacity now in Anaheim, Kim said.
Kim said it appears that more widespread usage of face coverings as well as the state's closure of bars and in-restaurant dining played a substantial role in curbing the spread of the virus.
The number of patients being treated for COVID-19 in county hospitals dropped from 536 Wednesday to 517, while the number of patients in intensive care dipped from 172 to 171, according to the HCA.
The county also reported 580 more diagnoses of coronavirus, raising the cumulative total to 38,711.
The agency on Wednesday reported 65 new diagnoses of coronavirus. But the low number was attributed to the state's recent glitch in reporting of positive tests from laboratories, Kim said.
Hospitalization statistics are more reliable because the hospitals use a different online software platform to report to the state, Kim noted. State officials have directed laboratories to send manual copies of test results as a backup until the software glitch is corrected, he said.
Orange County is on the state's watch list for counties experiencing high rates of new cases and hospitalizations. It has shown some improvement of late, with the rate of residents testing positive for COVID-19 dipping from 8.1% to 8%, which is the state's desired rate of 8%.
But its case rate per 100,000 residents inched up from 97.6 Wednesday to 97.9, which is far higher than the California Department of Public Health threshold of 25 per 100,000 residents.
The change in the three-day average of hospitalized patients went from -3.7% to -3.8%, much lower than the state's threshold of 10% increase.
Available ICU beds are at 36%, and the percentage of available ventilators at 56%. The state's threshold is 20% of ICU beds available to handle a surge and 25% ventilators on hand.
The county reported that 448,087 COVID-19 tests have been conducted, including 3,330 logged on Thursday. There have been 28,109 documented recoveries.
As local school officials prepare for classes to begin again, county officials are tabulating the number of coronavirus cases by various age groups.
Since the pandemic began, there have been 365 children up to age 3 who have been infected in the county; 466 in the 4-to-9-year-old age group; 365 from 10 to 12 years old; 344 among 13 to 14-year-olds; and 1,262 in the 15-to-18-year-old age group.
The state has released updated guidance for youth sports activities, allowing activities to resume, but with participants adhering to physical distancing and safety protocols. Participants must stay six feet from each other and activities must take place outdoors as much as possible.
Tournaments, events and games indoors that require close contact among participants are not allowed.
Photo: Getty Images