Orange County Reports New Record in COVID-19 Hospitalizations

SANTA ANA (CNS) - Orange County topped its all-time high for COVID-19 hospitalizations again today with 2,251 patients, including 502 in intensive care as officials also reported 29 more fatalities.

The number of hospitalized patients increased from 2,249 Wednesday to 2,251 as the number of patients in intensive care jumped up from 485 to 502, according to figures from the Orange County Health Care Agency.

Of the 29 additional deaths, nine were skilled nursing facility residents and five were assisted living facility residents. The death toll is 1,972 with 664 of the dead from skilled nursing facilities and 203 from assisted living facilities.

County officials also reported 2,701 new diagnoses of coronavirus, raising the cumulative total to 177,733.

There have been 71 fatalities reported this week. The death reports come from a variety of sources, so they are staggered and happened last month. The most recent deaths happened on Dec. 28, when two people fell victim to coronavirus. Dec. 14 marked a daily record during the pandemic, when 23 people died, besting the previous record of 20 on July 31. On Dec. 13, 21 people succumbed to COVID-19.

Last week, the county reported 56 COVID-19 fatalities, down from 85 the week before.

Orange County CEO Frank Kim said the new statistics were “concerning.''

County officials experienced a “small glitch'' in its vaccine distributions on Thursday when appointments for first responders and healthcare emergency workers were overbooked, Kim said. Officials had planned for 500 vaccinations, but ended up inoculating close to 1,200, he added.

As a result, there were “traffic jams'' on Jamboree and Tustin Ranch roads. Vaccines were being given out at the Orange County Fire Authority's training center in Irvine as well as in Anaheim and Huntington Beach, Kim said.

There were 31,915 tests reported on Thursday, raising the cumulative to 2,179,658, according to the Orange County Health Care Agency.

Larger regional hospital systems received vaccines directly from the state, but the county was put in charge of delivering the medicine to smaller, stand-alone hospitals, Kim said.

County officials are working on a plan to help all hospitals vaccinate residents because medical workers are “swamped'' with caring for patients, he said.

“We have to quickly work on a large-scale vaccination plan,'' Kim said Wednesday. “We can't rely on CVS, Walgreens and the local hospital system. They're overwhelmed.

“We need to pitch in and every county has been asked by the state to increase support for vaccine distribution. We hope to turn it into implementation very soon. We're very close to completing agreements on sites.''

County officials are eying five large sites such as school gyms or parking lots to be central vaccination locations.

“We want to do thousands'' of inoculations a day, Kim said.

One issue is finding enough qualified medical workers to vaccinate residents, Kim said. Only nurses, doctors and paramedics are authorized, but discussions are ongoing about expanding the types of qualified medical workers to provide vaccinations, he added.

Meanwhile, the Santa Ana City Council approved dipping into its general fund to spend $250,000 on vaccine distribution and COVID-19 testing. The city will also use $500,000 of Community Development Block Grant funds.

City officials plan to use $700,000 of that money on testing and vaccines and $50,000 to provide help for families who need someone to quarantine, said Paul Eakins, a spokesman for the city.

The Orange County Jail's recent outbreak saw another decline on Thursday with the number of infected inmates dropping from 1,120 to 1,020. The county is awaiting the results of 619 tests.

The number of hospitalized inmates increased from four to six, according to Orange County Sheriff's Sgt. Dennis Breckner.

Orange County Superior Court Judge Peter Wilson, who is overseeing a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union against the county seeking to reduce the jail population to better conform with physical distancing guidelines, has ordered Sheriff Don Barnes to provide details of each inmate's charges, criminal history and medical status in advance of a hearing on Friday to go over Wilson's order to reduce the jail population by half, with Barnes claiming he has released as many lower-risk inmates as he possibly can.

Wilson also allowed Santa Ana to intervene in the lawsuit. A hearing is scheduled Friday.

The county is struggling with a surge fueled by Thanksgiving-related family and friend gatherings. Another surge related to Christmas and New Year's celebrations is expected soon.

The county's state-adjusted ICU bed availability remains at zero, and the unadjusted figure decreased from 6% Wednesday to 5.6% Thursday. The state created the adjusted metric to reflect the difference in beds available for COVID-19 patients and non-coronavirus patients.

The Southern California region is at zero ICU capacity.

The county's availability of ventilators inched up from 32% Wednesday to 33% Thursday.

Outbreaks at the county's skilled nursing facilities and elderly assisted living facilities -- defined as two or more cases within 14 days -- are an ongoing problem for the county. The county has seen 43 outbreaks at skilled nursing facilities and at 42 elderly assisted living facilities.

On Monday, Orange County officials again suspended ambulance diversions.

“After allowing ambulance diversion... for more than a week, the previously described metrics that measure hospital capacity to receive ambulances from the field have again deteriorated,'' according to a memo from the county's Emergency Medical Services Director Dr. Carl Schultz.

As of Thursday, 90% of paramedics were averaging 48 minutes and 24 seconds waiting at hospitals to drop off patients.

Fairview Developmental Center has 20 patients, and mobile field hospitals, which are being used to help triage patients for overtaxed emergency rooms, have been set up at UC Irvine with 50 beds, Fountain Valley Regional Hospital with 25 beds, Los Alamitos Medical Center with 25 beds and St. Jude Medical Center in Fullerton with 50 beds.

Photo: Getty Images

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