Orange County Reports 213 New COVID-19 Cases, 19 Deaths


SANTA ANA (CNS) - After two days with no fatalities, Orange County health officials reported 19 coronavirus-related deaths today, along with 213 new diagnoses of COVID-19.

The statistics reported Wednesday stand in stark contrast to what had been an improving trend in case rates and deaths.

Only one COVID-19 fatality had been reported since Sunday by the county Health Care Agency. Last week, 54 coronavirus deaths were reported, down from 72 the week before and 77 the week before that.

Of Wednesday's reported deaths, 10 were skilled nursing facility residents and two were assisted living facility residents. Since the pandemic began, 496 of the county's fatalities were skilled nursing facility residents and 106 resided in assisted living facilities.

The last time the county reported double-digit deaths was Sept. 15, when 10 people died.

Orange County CEO Frank Kim said the Orange County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday will consider increasing spending on efforts to help improve safety at skilled nursing facilities.

Wednesday's new diagnoses topping 200 was also a concerning sign, as officials want to keep new cases under that mark. Kim said both metrics were “too high in case count and deaths.''

Officials are aiming for a weekly average of 130 daily, which would vault the county from the red to the less-restrictive orange tier of the state's four-tier economic-reopening roadmap. The county has to remain under 225 to stay within the red tier, Kim said.

The county has reported 56,282 positive cases since the pandemic began. Of that number, 2,339 were skilled nursing facility residents, 570 were jail inmates and 166 were homeless.

At a media briefing Wednesday, Orange County Sheriff Don Barnes said only nine inmates have COVID-19, with six of them having been newly booked and three who were transferred from one jail to another. The height in the jail system was reached five months ago when 220 inmates were infected, Barnes said.

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.

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 state's previous reopening system, hospital capacity was a key metric, but that data is no longer considered in the new tier system, 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 asked.

Hospitalizations ticked up from 160 on Tuesday to 165 Wednesday, while the number of intensive care unit patients inched up from 57 to 60.

The change in the three-day average of hospitalized patients went from -5% to -3.3%. The county has 33% of its intensive care unit beds and 67% 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.

Barnes said when the county reaches the orange tier he will move to restore visitation for inmates. He canceled visitations in March at the beginning of shutdown orders due to the rapid and wide spread of the virus.

According to OCHCA data, 963,589 COVID-19 tests have been conducted, including 5,750 reported Wednesday. There have been 50,313 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 casecounts 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, under which a county with a positivity rate that qualifies for the least-restrictive yellow tier but a case rate that's in the red, the county would be permitted to move up to orange, Chau said.

Photo: Getty Images

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