Orange County Reports 10 More Deaths, 151 New COVID-19 Cases


SANTA ANA (CNS) - Orange County health officials today reported 10 coronavirus-related fatalities, hiking the death toll over 1,400, and 151 new diagnoses of COVID-19.

The county's death toll stands at 1,401 and the cumulative case count is 56,587.

The county has reported 61 COVID-19-related deaths since Sunday. Last week, 54 coronavirus deaths were reported, down from 72 the week before and 77 the week before that.

The deaths reported Friday were spread out over the past several weeks. The death confirmations come from multiple sources such as hospitals, so the reporting of them are staggered.

“The number doesn't mean we have 31 dead since yesterday,'' said Dr. Clayton Chau, the director of the Orange County Health Care Agency and the county's chief health officer, referring to the death reports issued Thursday. Some of the deaths date as far back as June, Chau said.

“I don't know how or why that happens, but there is a delay in reporting deaths,'' he told reporters at an afternoon briefing.

Of the deaths reported Friday, seven were skilled nursing facility residents and two resided in assisted living facilities.

The last time the county reported double-digit deaths that occurred within a 24-hour period was Sept. 15, when 10 people died. The highest number of deaths announced in one day was 33 on Sept. 29, but those fatalities actually occurred over the course of several weeks.

Since the pandemic began, 520 of the county's fatalities involved skilled nursing facility residents and 110 resided in assisted living facilities.

Orange County CEO Frank Kim said the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday will consider increasing spending on efforts to help improve safety at skilled nursing facilities.

County officials plan to use CARES Act funding to provide more personal protective equipment, staffing and other needs to skilled nursing facilities and assisted living facilities, Chau said. Some resources also will be directed toward community clinics to help reach out to residents with chronic health conditions, he said.

Kim said Wednesday's new diagnoses, which topped 200, was a concerning sign, as officials want to keep new cases under that mark. Kim said both metrics were “too high in case count and deaths.''

Officials are aiming for a weekly average of 130 daily, which would vault the county from the second-most restrictive red tier to the orange tier of the state's four-tier economic-reopening roadmap. The county has to remain under 225 to stay within the red tier, Kim said.

At a media briefing Wednesday, Orange County Sheriff Don Barnes said nine inmates have COVID-19; six of them newly booked and three who were transferred from one lockup to another. The height of the pandemic in the jail system was reached five months ago, when 220 inmates were infected, Barnes said.

The positivity rate, which is reported each Tuesday, inched up from 3.2% last week to 3.5%, but the daily case rate per 100,000 people declined from 5.2 to 4.6, moving the county closer to an upgrade from the red to the orange tier.

County officials throughout the state are working with the governor's office and the state Department of Public Health to see if there's some flexibility that could be allowed when counties are close to moving up a tier, Kim said.

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Under the state's previous reopening system, hospital capacity was a key metric, but that data is no longer considered in the new tier system, he said.

“If we can show we have good capacity to contact-trace and the hospitals have good capacity to handle any surges and testing remains below capacity, then could the state give us additional flexibility to get into a less-restrictive tier?'' Kim asked.

Hospitalizations climbed from 164 Thursday to 170 on Friday, while the number of intensive care unit patients remained at 66.

The change in the three-day average of hospitalized patients went from -2.2% to 1.6%. The county has 36% of its intensive care unit beds and 68% of its ventilators available.

To qualify for the orange tier, the positivity rate must be 2% to 4%, and the case rate per 100,000 must be 1 to 3.9.

Chau told reporters on Thursday that the county's positivity rate has “consistently been in the range of the orange tier for more than a month.'' But the case rate per 100,000 has kept the county within the red tier.

With the holiday season advancing, Chau warned people to avoid extended family gatherings. And for Halloween, families are encouraged to celebrate at home or online or take part in drive-thru events that promote physical distancing, he said.

Parents could dress up their kids in costume and do a walk around the neighborhood with their immediate family, but “personally, I say stay home,'' Chau said. He noted if there is infection linked to a Halloween event, “It would be difficult to find and notify those who were exposed.''

For Dia De Los Muertos, residents are encouraged to view altars online or displays that are viewable to passersby, Chau said.

“Do not mix with other households -- that's really important,'' he said. “Parties and in-person, door-to-door trick-or-treating pose a high risk of transmitting COVID-19. This year, I would suggest parents maybe you should buy candy and give it to your own kid.''

Moving to the orange tier would mean retail businesses could operate at full capacity, instead of 50% as required in the red tier. Shopping malls could also operate at full capacity, but with closed common areas and reduced food courts, just as in the red tier.

Barnes said when the county reaches the orange tier, he will move to restore visitation for inmates. The sheriff canceled visitations in March at the beginning of shutdown orders due to the rapid spread of the virus.

According to OCHCA data, 975,548 COVID-19 tests have been conducted, including 5,336 reported Friday. There have been 50,632 documented recoveries.

Chau said increased testing can lower the positivity rate, but it can also lead to an increase in the case rate per 100,000. The state introduced a health equity measure, which launched last Tuesday, to help counties address high case counts concentrated within certain ZIP codes that include high-density housing and language barriers, among other issues.

Orange County got a head start weeks ago with its Latino Health Equity program, which raised awareness of coronavirus within hotspots in Santa Ana and Anaheim, Chau said. Positivity rates as high as 20% have fallen to single digits in some of those neighborhoods, Chau said.

There is an “accelerator'' in the state's formula, under which a county with a positivity rate that qualifies for the least-restrictive yellow tier -- but a case rate that's in the red -- would be permitted to move up to orange, Chau said.

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