SANTA ANA (CNS) - Coronavirus cases continue to rise in Orange County with 628 new diagnoses reported today, and hospitalizations also increased, but officials said they're confident they can handle the surge at this time.
Two fatalities were also reported Wednesday, raising the death toll to 1,528. The cumulative case count is at 66,585.
“I think it's important to take a look at the positive COVID-19 cases in the county, but also as a percentage of those cases, how many of those are individuals who get hospitalized and also keep track of our hospital bed capacity,'' County Supervisor Lisa Bartlett said.
Bartlett, who is also president of the California State Association of Counties, said state officials are concerned about having enough medical staff to cover its hospital beds, but local medical center executives say they are prepared for the surge.
“Right now we still have significant bed staffing in Orange County,'' Bartlett said. “But we need to keep track as COVID cases rise and how many get hospitalized. We want to sure our health care system doesn't get overwhelmed.''
Hospital officials must not only keep track of coronavirus hospitalizations, but for other patients as well, Bartlett said.
The state has a “mutual aid'' policy regarding medical staffing of hospitals, so if there is a surge regionally outside the county, Orange County's medical professionals would be assigned where there is the greatest need.
The county's intensive care units have not seen a sharp rise in patients, which could be owed to “better therapeutics'' as doctors get more efficient at treating the virus, Bartlett said.
The biggest source of transmission of coronavirus was attributed to friends and families getting together. “I think it's small to medium private gatherings, where people are in close proximity without face coverings,'' Bartlett said.
Bartlett and some other OC leaders have argued that the tighter restrictions on businesses as the county has been placed back into the most restrictive purple tier of the state's four-tier regulatory system amount to “punishing'' businesses when they aren't as much a vector for the disease.
“We can only shut down so much,'' she said. “That's why with the private gatherings we have to figure out how to target those.''
Orange County CEO Frank Kim said it is also likely that the Nov. 3 election contributed to the rise as well.
“Any time you have a public gathering that could include social or election-related or community protests -- we're not saying you can't do those things -- but we're saying they're absolutely one of the areas of greater risk because you're interacting with people outside of your normal cohorts and you don't know what parts of the community these people are coming from, so now you have a mixture of people who may or may not be from the same county. It's an unstable cohort and that is added risk.''
The county is rolling out a program to distribute no-cost home test kits for residents to help encourage quarantining and social distancing.
Although cases have risen sharply -- with more than 500 cases announced Friday and Saturday and more than 600 on Sunday -- deaths have been decreasing. Last week, the county reported 18 deaths, compared with 24 the week before.
Since Sunday, the county has reported just four deaths.
This most recent surge is dwarfed by the rise in cases in July when daily case rates reached 1,000 some days. Hospitalization rates soared as high as 700 on some days during the July surge.
But Bartlett cautioned that deaths are often a lagging indicator and as hospitalizations increase, eventually so could fatalities.
The number of county residents hospitalized with the virus rose from 270 Tuesday to 291 Wednesday, with the number in the intensive care unit jumping from 79 to 90, according to the Orange County Health Care Agency.
The change in the three-day average of hospitalized patients went from 5.3% to 13.5%. The county has 27% of its intensive care unit beds and 65% of its ventilators available.
Previously, a relatively small percentage of infected people needed hospitalization, but that number has crept up to 12% who tested positive requiring a stay in a hospital, Bartlett said.
The rise in cases hit home when Kim was recently infected with COVID-19. Contact tracers suspect he was infected Nov. 5 and developed symptoms Nov. 7 before he was diagnosed as positive Nov. 10.
The CEO, who is known for being careful with regard to social distancing and mask usage, told City News Service that his case was a cautionary tale about a highly infectious virus. He said he was feeling much better on Wednesday.
According to OCHCA data, 1,278,834 COVID-19 tests have been conducted since the start of the pandemic, including 8,753 reported Wednesday. There have been 57,094 documented recoveries.
The county's positivity rate, which has been reported each Tuesday but was moved up to Monday, jumped up from 3.3% last week to 4.6%, and the daily case rate per 100,000 population ballooned from 5.6. to 10.8.
The county's Health Equity Quartile Positivity Rate, which measures a county's response to virus hot spots, decreased from 5.7% to 5.5% as of Nov. 10. It was not updated as of Wednesday. The county has to reach at least 5.2% in that metric to be upgraded from the red tier to the orange tier.
The county is providing 277.9 tests per 100,000 residents on a 7-day average with a 7-day lag, but Kim said the county is aiming for 300 and may open up more lanes at “super sites'' in Anaheim and Costa Mesa to speed up wait times.
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