Orange County Thursday reported two more coronavirus-related deaths, bringing the total to 36, and announced 78 new confirmed COVID-19 cases, bringing that number to 1,827.
The number of hospitalized patients decreased from 162 on Wednesday to 158, with the number of intensive care patients dropping from 70 to 59, according to the Orange County Health Care Agency.
Overall, there have been 170 coronavirus cases in the county’s nursing homes, with 102 residents diagnosed with COVID-19 and 68 staffers falling ill to the virus.
County officials have contracted with a temporary nursing staffing agency to make sure there are enough emergency medical technicians to help in the event that nursing home staffers refuse to report for work.
Two residents of Huntington Valley Health Care Center in Huntington Beach — aged 77 and 79 — died this week. Fourteen other patients are hospitalized, and 24 staffers have tested positive for the virus.
Of the county’s total coronavirus cases, 2%, or 33, involve people under 18 years old; 8%, or 141, are between 18-24; 16%, or 296, are between 25-34; 14%, or 262, are between 35-44; 39%, or 708, are between 45-64, and 21%, 385, are 65 or older. Men make up 53% of the county’s cases and 64% of its fatalities.
Of the deaths, 6% were 25 to 34 years old, 6% were 35 to 44, 31% were 45 to 64, and 58% were 65 or older, according to the OCHCA. People of Asian descent accounted for 31% of the fatalities, while 25% were Latino, 28% were white, 6% were black, 8% were of unknown ethnicity and 3% were in the category of “other.”
The number of people tested for COVID-19 in the county stands at 20,816, with enough kits for 2,292 more specimens. Public and private labs have performed 671 tests since Tuesday.
Orange County’s chief health officer, Dr. Nichole Quick, said earlier this week that health officials believe that the “statewide stay-at-home order has been effective.”
A key step in lifting restrictions is to increase testing, and OCHCA officials began a new network of tests for COVID-19 on Tuesday. Before abruptly resigning this week, David Souleles, deputy agency director of Public Health Services,, announced six testing sites spread out through the county. Initially, the county is expected to boost tests by 600 per day.
Residents who have symptoms related to coronavirus who lack insurance or cannot get a test through their health care provider can now go to AltaMed sites in Anaheim and Santa Ana, as well as Nhan Hoa Comprehensive Health Care Clinic in Garden Grove and various UC Irvine Health sites.
“Our goal is to get 10 sites up and running in the next two weeks, so we can get up to 1,000 tests per day and then move onto 2,000 tests per day next month,” Souleles said.
Ultimately, the county is shooting to test about 640,000 residents.
Previously, only severely ill patients were being tested because of the scarcity of supplies, Souleles said, but “now we are opening it up to anybody who is symptomatic.”
The testing network uses kits that obtain a specimen used to diagnose the coronavirus. Blood tests that measure antibodies to see if someone has had COVID-19 and recovered from it will be tools to help with quarantining and contact tracing in the future, officials said.
The serology tests “will play a key role long-term in helping us understand herd immunity and how widely spread COVID-19 has been in our community, how many have experienced it and how many have been mildly symptomatic and asymptomatic,” Souleles said.
Quick said even when some restrictions are lifted, the most vulnerable, such as senior citizens, will be asked to continue adhering to stay-at-home orders.
“When we go back to loosening up stay-at-home orders we want to be able to identify a case as soon as there is one and then do” contact tracing, Quick said. “We can’t just open this up and not see a rapid increase in cases. The last thing we want to do is open the flood gates and watch our case counts go up uncontrolled.”
The Orange County Board of Supervisors, meanwhile, voted 3-2 Tuesday to require face coverings for employees in many retail businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The face coverings will be required, beginning Friday, for employees interacting with the public in grocery, pharmacy and convenience stores, as well as gas stations, restaurants and other locations where food is prepared.
The ordinance applies countywide. Cities can approve more restrictive laws, but cannot have one weaker than the county order.