Orange County COVID-19 Trends Continue in Encouraging Direction

SANTA ANA (CNS) - Orange County is reporting just 65 new COVID-19 cases, while hospitalization numbers remain mostly stable.

Thursday's new cases upped the county's cumulative count from throughout the pandemic to 252,692. The county also logged seven new fatalities Thursday, boosting the death toll to 4,869.

Coronavirus hospitalizations increased from 122 on Wednesday to 125, with the number of intensive care unit patients decreasing from 30 to 29. The county has 37.1% of its ICU beds available, and 71% of its ventilators.

“Cases are good, but we still haven't seen a significant change in daily case rate numbers,'' said Orange County CEO Frank Kim.

As of Thursday, the county's average daily rate of new COVID cases was 2.9 per 100,000 residents, and the overall positivity rate was 1.5%. The positivity rate in underprivileged communities in the health equity category was at 1.6%, Kim said.

“In terms of positivity rates there isn't a significant disparity,'' Kim said.

Andrew Noymer, a UC Irvine professor of population health and disease prevention, said the county's trends continue to offer good news.

“Hospitalizations are still holding steady, but not going up appreciably,'' Noymer said.

Thursday marked the first day anyone 16 and older could get a vaccination. Kim said staff at the vaccination sites have been trained to make sure anyone who is underage has a parent or legal guardian with them. A letter from a parent will not be accepted, Kim said.

Noymer said it will likely be a few weeks before it's easy to get an appointment for an inoculation.

“I have Twitter followers saying they can't get appointments,'' Noymer said. “To some extent you have to be somewhat tenacious if you want a vaccination within the next few weeks. Just because we're going wide doesn't mean you weren't going to have go through some rigamarole.''

Noymer added, “People are just going to need to be patient and keep trying.''

But eventually as more people get vaccinated the appointments will open up, Noymer said.

“It will come to the point and, quite frankly sooner than later, when anyone can get a shot anytime where they can and basically walk into any retail pharmacy and get a shot,'' he said.

The county on Thursday reported 15,496 more COVID-19 tests.

“If things were going to take a turn for the worse those tests would blindside us with positives, and that hasn't happened so that's good news,'' Noymer said.

Noymer said he wouldn't second-guess the authorities who put a pause on the Johnson & Johnson vaccine because of six cases of potentially dangerous blood clots among millions of vaccinations.

“One thing a lot of people don't realize is just how high the bar is for these vaccines,'' Noymer said. “One-in-a-million blood clots might actually be enough to knock it off the market.''

Noymer acknowledged that some critics of the decision to pause the J&J vaccine have said the coronavirus is more dangerous than potential adverse effects from the shot.

“People say it's a bigger adverse event to get COVID, but the safety bar for vaccines is very high and one in a million with these blood clots is borderline unacceptable even though more people will die of COVID,'' he said. “The vaccines have a high safety bar to meet and that's just a fact. You want to be attentive. You don't want to put the taint of blood clots on Johnson & Johnson forever, but you also don't want to be seen ignoring potentially serious side effects.''

For now, county officials will not have to boost staffing at county vaccination sites even though anyone 16 and older can get a shot now, Kim said.

“We don't have to go too much higher because our dose allocation doesn't change and we're still scheduling the same 15,000 or so a day,'' Kim said. “So, I don't think from a staffing level it's any more significant.''

But when there is a significant increase in vaccine allocations, there will be a boost in staffing, Kim said.

So far, the county has dispensed nearly 2 million doses of vaccine, Kim said.

County-run vaccination sites will be open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. as usual, but on Thursdays, the OC Fair and Event Center site will be open from noon to 8 p.m., Kim said. The Santa Ana College vaccination site also offers noon to 8 p.m. hours on Mondays, he added.

If the night hours are popular officials will consider adding more evening hours in the future, Kim said.

According to the weekly update from the state, issued on Tuesdays, the county's test positivity rate remained at 1.6%, while the adjusted case rate per 100,000 people on a seven-day average with a seven-day lag remained at 3.

The county's Health Equity Quartile rate, which measures positivity in hotspots in disadvantaged communities, improved from 2.1% to 1.8%. The county's positivity rates qualify for the least-restrictive yellow tier of the state's four-tier system for reopening the economy, but the case counts are still in the orange tier.

A graduation into the yellow tier requires that the case rate must get below 2 per 100,000 population.

With Thursday's reported fatalities, the death toll for March rose to 161. On Wednesday, for the first time a fatality was reported for April, which occurred on April 1, but COVID-19 fatalities are often staggered or delayed in reporting for a variety of reasons.

The death toll for February increased to 564. The death toll for January, the deadliest month in the pandemic, increased to 1,501.

Photo: Getty Images

Copyright 2021, City News Service, Inc.

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