Orange County's COVID-19 Cases Continue To Decline

SANTA ANA (CNS) - As Orange County officials opened up a new COVID-19 vaccine distribution point at Santa Ana College today, they received good news regarding a continuing trend of declining cases and hospitalizations.

The county reported 166 new cases of COVID-19, raising the cumulative total to 243,329, but also logged 27 more fatalities, hiking the death toll to 3,644.

The death reports are staggered because they come from a variety of sources and are not always logged immediately.

Most of the fatalities occurred in January, raising the death toll in the pandemic's deadliest month to 1,060. One death was in December, hiking the death toll that month to 860, and the rest were this month, which now has a death toll of 21.

Of the deaths logged Wednesday, two were skilled nursing facility residents, raising the total to 904 since the pandemic began, and one was an assisted living facility resident, hiking that total to 406.

Hospitalizations, meanwhile, continued a downward trend, with 719 patients being treated for the virus at area medical centers, down from 748 on Tuesday, with the number in intensive care remaining at 235.

The county has 15.4% of its ICU beds available, as well as 57% of its ventilators, according to the Orange County Health Care Agency. “We haven't seen any spikes so far from the Super Bowl, so that's good news,'' Orange County CEO Frank Kim told City News Service on Tuesday.

The deadliest day of the pandemic in Orange County was Jan. 5, when 63 people died. The second highest was Jan. 3, when 61 people died.

The county's adjusted daily case rate per 100,000 people dropped from 29.7 last week to 20.7 on Tuesday, and the test positivity rate on a seven-day average, with a seven-day lag, fell from 9.4% to 7.8%, which meets the criteria for the red tier of the state's four-tiered business re-opening plan.

The county's Health Equity Quartile Positivity Rate, which measures the cases in highly affected, needier parts of the county, declined from 12.4% last week to 10.7%.

The numbers for the state's color-coded tier framework are updated on Tuesdays.

To move to the less-restrictive red tier from the purple tier, 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%. And the county would be required to maintain the metrics for two consecutive weeks.

Orange County Board of Supervisors Chairman Andrew Do said if the trends continue, the “best-case scenario'' is another three to four weeks before the county makes the red tier.

By that time in mid-to-late March, the Johnson & Johnson vaccine -- which only requires one shot instead of the two-shot regimen for the vaccines currently in use -- could be available, Do said.

“At that point, we could really make headway into reopening our economy,'' he said.

Kim said the county has “one foot in the red tier and another firmly planted in purple still.''

The county opened a new vaccine distribution site at Santa Ana College on Wednesday. The site aims to dispense about 1,000 vaccines daily, and up to 1,500 ultimately, Do said.

Most of those being inoculated on Wednesday at the college were signed up through the county's app and website, Othena. The new vaccination site is meant to help reach residents in the hot spots of Santa Ana, Anaheim, Garden Grove and Fountain Valley.

Orange County has met the state's threshold to reopen schools for kindergarten through sixth grades, but most of the schools in the county have already been open for some sort combination of virtual and direct learning.

Anaheim Elementary School District has plans to resume in-person learning March 15. Buena Park School District is phasing in in-person instruction to start on Feb. 22.

The number of infected inmates in the county's jails was down to 13 with one hospitalized and officials waiting on results from 282 tests. County attorneys at a court hearing on Tuesday said 186 inmates 65 and older or who have underlying health conditions making them especially vulnerable to COVID-19 have been vaccinated. Another 110 declined shots.

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