Orange County COVID-19 Death Toll Continues Steep Climb

SANTA ANA (CNS) - Orange County today logged 107 more COVID-19 fatalities, a record number in a single batch of death reports, which raised the cumulative to 2,975 for the pandemic.

The death reports are staggered because they come from a variety of sources and are not always logged immediately, but the batch of reports logged Friday pushed the death toll for the month of December to 801, far and away the county's deadliest month. So far, the death toll for January is at 475.

The deadliest day of the pandemic for the county is Jan. 3, when 53 people succumbed to coronavirus. The runner-up was Christmas Day, when 51 people died of COVID-19-related conditions.

Of the fatalities reported, 15 were skilled nursing facility residents, pushing the cumulative up to 827, and 11 were assisted living facility residents, raising that total to 321.

The post-holidays death tolls offer a marked contrast to November, when the virus killed 164 in the county.

Andrew Noymer, a UC Irvine professor of Population Health and Disease Prevention, said this week that at the rate of the past week, it would take 22 days for the county's death toll to reach 4,000.

Hospitalization rates, however, continued a downward trend on Friday.

The number of patients hospitalized due to the virus declined from 1,592 Thursday to 1,521 Friday with the number of patients in intensive care units declining from 439 to 426.

The county's state-adjusted ICU bed availability remains at zero, and the unadjusted figure increased from 8.5% Thursday to 10.1% Friday. The state created the adjusted metric to reflect the difference in beds available for COVID-19 patients and non-coronavirus patients. The county has 43% of its ventilators available.

The county logged 1,460 new coronavirus cases on Friday, upping the cumulative total to 229,757.

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%.

The OCHCA reported 21,584 tests on Friday, for a total of 2,643,414.

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 32 on Thursday to 28 on Friday. Authorities were awaiting results of 259 tests. Two inmates remain hospitalized.

Orange County Superior Court Judge Peter Wilson on Friday gave sheriff's officials another two weeks to reduce the jail population enough to provide physical distancing for inmates in congregant housing.

If sheriff's officials cannot provide satisfactory physical distancing, then a special master may be appointed by the judge to determine which inmates can be released on some level or another, including home confinement or on GPS monitoring.

“He gave us the opportunity to work it out one more time,'' attorney Kevin Dunn said of the county counsel's office.

Previously, Wilson had indicated he wanted to halve the jail population from the level it was at in March. But on Friday, Wilson said he would not peg the percentage of release of inmates to any certain amount anymore, Dunn said.

“It appears there's some recognition there needs to be flexibility,'' Dunn said. “Part of that is you have populations now being vaccinated and some who have been exposed, so there are different dynamics.'' Outbreaks -- defined as at least two cases over the past two weeks --were reported in 26 skilled nursing facilities and 37 elderly assisted living facilities in the county as of Friday.

Fairview Developmental Center in Costa Mesa -- which was set up to handle overflow from local hospitals -- is currently treating 30 patients, 20 from Orange County, seven from Los Angeles County, two from Riverside County and one San Bernardino County.

Meanwhile, a new program to help some Orange County residents affected by the COVID-19 pandemic to pay rent and some utility bills was announced today by Board of Supervisors Chairman Andrew Do.

The county is using $65.5 million from the federal government to help some needy renters hang on to their apartments and cover some bills.

“Orange County renters have had to bear an incredible burden throughout this pandemic,'' Do said. “Our rental assistance will help keep our most vulnerable community members from losing their home and a sense of security in the midst of this ongoing crisis.''

Renters in cities with more than 200,000 population such as Anaheim, Santa Ana and Irvine also received money from the federal government to help with rent payments.

The county's program is open to residents who can show they're at risk of homelessness without assistance and have a combined income at or below 80% of area median income. Starting Monday, residents wanting to apply for the assistance can go to for more information.

The program does not cover homeowners past due on mortgage payments.

Photo: Getty Images

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