SANTA ANA (CNS) - The death toll from the holiday-season COVID-19 surge continues in Orange County, with health officials logging 50 more fatalities -- though hospitalizations and case counts continue to decline.
The county also reported 602 new coronavirus cases on Thursday, raising its cumulative totals to 235,310 cases and 3,249 deaths.
The number of coronavirus patients in hospitals in Orange County continued its downward trend, declining from 1,298 Wednesday to 1,238 on Thursday, with the number of patients in intensive care inching up from 363 to 365, according to the Orange County Health Care Agency.
Hospitalizations have come down nearly 19% since a week ago, and the ICU rate has dipped nearly 18% in that period, Orange County CEO Frank Kim said Wednesday.
“It's kind of a similar pattern -- they're both coming down pretty fast,'' he said. “Our testing volume remains strong, which is outstanding, so that gives you more confidence (in the positivity rate). If we had lower testing volumes I'd be more skeptical of the number. We're moving in the right direction. It's just going to be a while.''
The OCHCA reported 17,063 COVID-19 tests on Thursday, bringing the total to 2,733,220.
Tuesday, when the county reported 768 new infections, marked the first time since Dec. 31 that the OCHCA had reported fewer than 1,000 cases.
Of the deaths reported Thursday, two were skilled nursing facility residents, hiking the total to 852. Six were assisted living facility residents, hiking that total to 356.
Since Sunday, the county has logged 231 coronavirus-related fatalities. Last week, the county reported 393 coronavirus deaths, up from 305 the week before. The death reports are staggered because they come from a variety of sources and are not always logged immediately.
The death toll for January stands at 712. December was the deadliest month during the pandemic, with 836 people succumbing to coronavirus.
Kim said vaccinations at the county's two super sites at Disneyland and Soka University in Aliso Viejo have been “going really well.''
The county is inoculating about 5,000 people daily at Disneyland and about 2,500 to 2,600 daily at the university, he said.
“We could easily scale that up,'' but the county needs more vaccines, Kim said. “We're using up all the doses that we receive.''
The issues the county previously had with its Othena app and website to schedule and inform the public about vaccines “have been mostly smoothed out,'' Kim said. “But for people who have difficulty accessing technology, that will be a challenge.''
The Othena app now has a Spanish-language option, part of an outreach effort the board of supervisors has pushed for. The county also announced on Thursday that veteran local Telemundo journalist Martin Plascencia was hired to help with outreach among Spanish-speaking residents. A 2019-2020 report indicates that 46% of Orange County adults speak a language other than English at home, officials said.
The county is also partnering with CalOptima, the county's primary insurance provider for low-income residents, to provide vaccines through mobile clinics, Kim said.
The county is responsible for distributing about 20% of vaccinations and hospital systems receive the rest of the state's allocations.
County officials expect that Johnson & Johnson will seek emergency authorization next week for its one-dose vaccine, which could be available by mid-month, Kim said.
The outbreak in the county's jails continued to decline. The number of inmates infected dropped from 23 Wednesday to 22 on Thursday, with one inmate hospitalized. The county is awaiting the result of 205 tests.
Outbreaks -- defined as two or more confirmed cases over the past two weeks -- have gone down in the county's nursing homes. As of Wednesday, there were 19 outbreaks in skilled nursing facilities and 28 elderly assisted living facilities.
The Fairview Developmental Center in Costa Mesa, which is being used to care for patients with symptoms no longer requiring hospitalization, had 24 Orange County residents, eight Los Angeles County residents, three Riverside County residents and one San Bernardino County resident as of Wednesday.
The county's state-adjusted ICU bed availability remains at zero, and the unadjusted figure declined from 12.2% Wednesday to 9.6% on Thursday. The state created the adjusted metric to reflect the difference in beds available for COVID-19 patients and non-coronavirus patients.
The adjusted daily case rate per 100,000 people dropped from 46.6 last week to 39 on Tuesday, and the test positivity rate on a seven-day average, with a seven-day lag, dropped from 12.9% to 10.9%. The numbers for the state's color-coded tier framework are updated on Tuesdays.
The county's Health Equity Quartile Positivity Rate, which measures the cases in highly affected, needier parts of the county, declined from 16.6% last week to 13.9%.
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 a 5% to 8% positivity rate with a health equity quartile at 5.3% to 8%.
Photo: Getty Images