Orange County Reports 2,163 New COVID-19 Cases, 974 in Hospitals


SANTA ANA (CNS) - COVID-19 hospitalizations continued to surge in Orange County today with 28 more patients admitted since the prior day to bring the number to 974, setting another new record.

Of the nearly 1,000 patients who are hospitalized, 239 are in intensive care units, just a half-dozen shy of a mid-July peak and up from 235 on Tuesday, according to the Orange County Health Care Agency.

The HCA also reported receiving 2,613 new coronavirus diagnoses, which would be a record amount, according to Orange County CEO Frank Kim. But it could reflect a backlog of cases from the state.

The county's cumulative case count stands at 93,126, but no new fatalities were reported and the death toll remained at 1,633.

The county's percentage of available ICU beds dropped from 13% Tuesday to 11.2%, but according to a new state metric for “adjusted'' ICU bed availability, the rate is at 4.9%, according to the HCA. Kim said the “adjusted'' case rate essentially reflects the estimated number of beds available for COVID-19 patients when factoring in the number of beds needed for patients without the coronavirus.

The county has 53% of its ventilators available.

The 11-county Southern California region's available ICU capacity shrunk to 9%.

Orange County's adjusted daily case rate per 100,000 rose Tuesday to 30.3, up from 22.2 last week, with the positivity rate increasing from 8.8% to 10.6%.

The county's Health Equity Quartile Positivity Rate, which measures the cases in highly affected, needier parts of the county, rose from 13% last week to 16.2% this week.

All of the county's metrics now fall within the state's most-restrictive purple tier of the four-tier coronavirus monitoring system.

County officials are again focusing on a surge in coronavirus cases in skilled nursing and assisted living facilities, Kim said.

There are two dozen skilled nursing facilities in the county that have reported two or more cases of COVID-19 in the past two weeks, and 22 assisted living facilities with two or more cases in the past 14 days.

“The state is asking us to support them,'' Kim said, “so we're getting more involved in these small congregant living programs that are having difficulty.''

County officials were asked to provide personal protective equipment, more training or staffing to help curb the spread of COVID-19 in those facilities, where the main reason for the spread is likely from employees who contract the virus off site, Kim said.

“We know that asymptomatic carriers are a significant'' source of spread of the virus, he said.

Sixty-four residents signed up at Tuesday's Orange County Board of Supervisors meeting to comment on the stay-at-home order triggered last week when Southern California's intensive-care unit bed availability dropped under 15%.

Most pleaded for the county to ignore it.

“We plow the same field over and over and I still see the misperception in the community'' about the authority of the county when it comes to the state regulations, Supervisor Andrew Do said.

Do asked Dr. Clayton Chau, the county's chief health officer and director of the Health Care Agency, to reiterate the county's lack of control over the stay-at-home orders.

“I am the extension of the California Department of Public Health, so any guidance coming down from the California Department of Public Health I must follow,'' Chau told the board. “I can be stricter in terms of issuing guidance, but I cannot be more relaxed than the state.''

The board unanimously approved a resolution requesting more local control over regulating COVID-19 measures.

Supervisor Don Wagner, an outspoken critic of Gov. Gavin Newsom's management of the pandemic, said the supervisors cannot ignore orders from Newsom. But Wagner railed against state officials, who, he said, were “playing us for fools, saying you guys have to follow these rules, and they're making up the rules as they go along.''

Wagner pointed to instances in which Democratic political leaders flouted coronavirus regulations, including Newsom attending a gathering at a top Napa Valley restaurant, and said it was evidence that they did not believe the rules were necessary to curb the pandemic.

“They don't follow the rules, because they don't have faith in the rules as necessary or as helpful,''  Wagner said.

Orange County Supervisor Lisa Bartlett, who co-sponsored the resolution with Wagner, said, “Local control is the best way to go.''

Bartlett decried a “heavy-handed, one-sided approach from Sacramento,'' and said counties must get out of a cycle of opening and reopening the economy. “They can't keep shutting them down again. It's detrimental, it's terrible for the workforce to be hired and fired.''

Do said he supported the resolution, but wanted to strip the politics out of it.

“I want to make it very clear this resolution is asking for more local autonomy,'' Do said. “We are in a bit of a crisis ... And the public health threat today in Orange County is the most serious since the beginning of the pandemic ... Our ICU availability is down to 13%. We can no longer rest on the laurels. We are no longer unlike other counties ... Let's focus and not turn it into a political statement against Sacramento because that will dilute the laser focus we need as a community to fight this pandemic.''

Outgoing board Chairwoman Michelle Steel, who was elected last month to Congress but has not resigned her county post, criticized Newsom's order and asked the county CEO to issue a memo on the consequences of ignoring the stay-at-home regulations.

“All the businesses have been locked down, we cannot walk around and we cannot gather. What's the next step here?'' Steel asked Chau.

Chau told the supervisors that the county is expecting about 25,000 doses of the first round of vaccines to be doled out nationwide. If the vaccines are approved by the federal government this week, the county could receive its first portion by Dec. 15 to be administered to critical health care workers, Chau said.

Vaccines for the general public are expected in the late spring or early summer, he added.

Do said the county's new home test kits have been made available to all residents. Previously, the saliva-based home test kits were first distributed to residents in Anaheim and Santa Ana, the county's hot spots for coronavirus.

“Now these test kits are available both online and in clinics,'' Do said.

For the first time, all county supervisors wore masks through the duration of the meeting. That was because of a new guideline from CalOSHA directing businesses and organizations to instruct employees to wear masks, Kim said.

Photo: Getty Images

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