COVID-19 Death Toll Continues Steep Climb in OC

SANTA ANA (CNS) - Orange County today logged another 71 COVID-19 fatalities, including 15 that occurred in December, as the death toll climbed to 2,839 and could reach 4,000 in three weeks, according to a UC Irvine public health expert's projections.

Andrew Noymer, a UC Irvine professor of population health and disease prevention, said that at the rate of the past week, it would take 22 days for the county's death toll to reach 4,000.

“It's just a question of when, not if,'' Noymer said.

Of the fatalities reported Wednesday, one was a skilled nursing facility resident and nine were assisted living facility residents. That raises the death toll to 813 for skilled nursing facility residents and 307 assisted living facility residents.

Wednesday's report from the Orange County Health Care Agency boosted December's coronavirus death toll to 744 with 15 additional fatalities. That's a marked contrast to November, when the virus killed 164 in the county.

So far in January, 397 people have died of coronavirus-related causes in the county. The last confirmed fatality happened Jan. 17. The death reports come from a variety of sources and are delayed, so the numbers will keep rising through next month.

Despite that unsettling news, some other metrics of the pandemic have been trending in the right direction.

The number of patients hospitalized due to the virus declined from 1,677 Tuesday to 1,639 Wednesday. But the number of patients in intensive care units rose from 437 to 448.

The county's state-adjusted ICU bed availability remains at zero, and the unadjusted figure ticked down from 10.2% Tuesday to 10.1%. The state created the adjusted metric to reflect the difference in beds available for COVID-19 patients and non-coronavirus patients. The county has 39% of its ventilators available.

The Southern California region remains at zero ICU availability.

The county logged 1,038 new coronavirus cases on Wednesday, upping the cumulative total to 227,021.

The county's Health Equity Quartile Positivity Rate, which measures the cases in highly affected, needier parts of the county, declined from 21.2% last week to 16.6% on Tuesday. The state updates the statistics weekly on Tuesdays.

The adjusted daily case rate per 100,000 dropped from 67.1 to 46.6, and the test positivity rate on a seven-day average with a seven-day lag dropped from 16.7% to 12.9%.

To move to the less-restrictive red tier from the top purple tier in the state's coronavirus regulatory system, the county has to improve to 4 to 7 new daily cases per 100,000 and 5 to 8% positivity rate with a health equity quartile at 5.3 to 8%.

A day after Orange County supervisors offered a blistering critique of the county's Othena app and website that schedules vaccinations, county CEO Frank Kim said the program has been  much improved.

“Othena is working,'' Kim told City News Service. “I know people are getting frustrated, but the vast majority of the technical concerns we're hearing from the public is they've forgotten their passwords or they would like there to be a clear understanding when their turn will come up.''

The county has 484,170 registered with Othena, with 79,291 inoculated and 89,957 with an appointment for a shot, according to the Orange County Health Care Agency. Of those registered, one-quarter are 75 or older and 65% are 65 and older.

“We know there's close to 500,000 residents registered and are now waiting in the queue and they're frustrated, which is understandable,'' Kim said. “There's interest in receiving a vaccine as soon as possible, which is good.''

County officials want to provide more updates to those registered through the app.

“It will take a little bit of time and we're asking for patience and once the vaccine allocation increases, we'll be able to get to you sooner,'' Kim said. “Please have patience and know we're working as hard as we can to get to you.''

The OCHCA reported 14,230 tests on Wednesday, for a total of 2,602,097.

With the post-holiday case surges and deaths, the Orange County Sheriff's Coroner's Department has had to provide trailers with freezers to store an average of about 100 bodies until funeral homes can catch up and take them, Kim said.

The South Coast Air Quality Management District on Monday temporarily suspended its limits on cremations in Orange County until Feb. 4. The agency limits crematoriums to control air pollution.

The outbreak in the county's jails has continued to decline with the number of infected inmates dropping from 48 on Tuesday to 40 on Wednesday. Authorities were awaiting results of 398 tests. Two inmates remain hospitalized.

Outbreaks -- defined as at least two cases over the past two weeks -- were reported in 26 skilled nursing facilities and 39 elderly assisted living facilities in the county as of Wednesday.

Fairview Developmental Center in Costa Mesa -- which was set up to handle overflow from local hospitals -- is currently treating 29 patients, 19 from Orange County, eight from Los Angeles County, and one each from Riverside and San Bernardino counties.

Photo: Getty Images

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