SANTA ANA (CNS) - Orange County reported a second consecutive day of no COVID-19 fatalities today, while new coronavirus cases continue to decline.
The county's Health Care Agency reported 178 new diagnoses of coronavirus, raising the cumulative total to 56,070, but no new fatalities were reported so the death toll remained at 1,341.
Since Sunday, the county has reported just one fatality. Last week, 54 deaths were reported, down from 72 the week before and 77 the week before that.
The positivity rate, which is reported each Tuesday, inched up from 3.2% last week to 3.5%, but the daily case rate per 100,000 people declined from 5.2 to 4.6, moving the county closer to an upgrade from the red to the orange tier in California's four-tier monitoring system.
“The numbers are looking pretty good,'' Orange County CEO Frank Kim said. “It looks like we've come off the peak from Oct. 4 and Oct. 5.''
As of Oct. 7, the case rate per 100,000 people was 5.3 and it has trended down to 4.5 on Tuesday, Kim said.
“I'm really happy about that. A week is not an extended trend, but it indicates with schools reopening and getting through the holiday periods that we didn't have a huge outbreak,'' Kim said.
County officials throughout the state are working with the governor's office and the state Department of Public Health to see if there's some flexibility that could be allowed when counties are close to moving up a tier, Kim said.
Under the old state system hospital capacity was a key metric, but that data is not being considered when deciding whether a county can move to a less-restrictive tier, Kim said.
“If we can show we have good capacity to contact trace and the hospitals have good capacity to handle any surges and testing remains below capacity then could the state give us additional flexibility to get into a less-restrictive tier?'' Kim posed.
Counties with patient-surge capacity are willing to share beds with counties not so well off, Kim said.
“We want to provide flexibility to health officers to have a little bit of gray area around the borders of each of the tiers,'' he said.
Hospitalizations declined from 167 on Monday to 160 on Tuesday, while the number of intensive care unit patients inched up from 56 to 57.
The change in the three-day average of hospitalized patients went from -5.8% to -5%. The county has 36% of its intensive care unit beds and 66% of its ventilators available.
To qualify for the orange tier, the positivity rate must be 2% to 4%, and the case rate per 100,000 must be 1% to 3.9%.
Moving to the orange tier would mean retail businesses could operate at full capacity, instead of 50% as required in the red tier. Shopping malls could also operate at full capacity, but with closed common areas and reduced food courts, just as in the red tier.
According to OCHCA data, 957,839 COVID-19 tests have been conducted, including 9,168 reported Tuesday. There have been 50,130 documented recoveries.
Dr. Clayton Chau, director of the OCHCA and the county's chief health officer, said increased testing can lower the positivity rate, but it can also lead to an increase in the case rate per 100,000. The state introduced a health equity measure, which launched last Tuesday, to help counties address high case counts concentrated within certain ZIP codes that include high-density housing and language barriers, among other issues.
Orange County got a head start on that weeks ago with its Latino Health Equity program, which raised awareness of coronavirus within hotspots in Santa Ana and Anaheim, Chau said. Positivity rates as high as 20% have fallen to single digits in some of those neighborhoods, Chau said.
There is an “accelerator'' in the state's formula that if the positivity rate makes it to the least-restrictive yellow tier but the case rate is in the red, then a county can move up to orange, Chau said.
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