Orange County health officials Friday reported 17 COVID-19 fatalities, raising this week’s death toll to 56, making it the deadliest week since the coronavirus pandemic began.

Moreover, the county has also exceeded two important metrics that will trigger more scrutiny from the California Department of Public Health.

The county’s rate of positive tests for COVID-19 stand at 8.5%, which is higher than the state standard of 8%. The county’s case rate of 97.9 per 100,000 people is also higher than the state’s threshold of 25 per 100,000.

Last week, the county reported 50 coronavirus fatalities, and the week before that 41. Of the county’s 323 COVID-19 deaths, 170 were residents of nursing homes and three were transients.

The Orange County Health Care Agency also reported 479 new COVID-19 cases, raising the total to 11,960, as well as a significant jump in hospitalizations.

The number of hospitalized patients rose from 394 Thursday to 451, with the number of patients in intensive care increasing from 147 to 166.

The county, however, is in good shape when it comes to hospital bed capacity and ventilators, according to the HCA. The county has 37.7% intensive care unit beds available, which is higher than the state’s threshold of 20%, and the county has 66.7% ventilators available, higher than the state threshold of 25%, according to the agency.

County officials had a meeting with city leaders Friday and discussed ways they can promote more social distancing techniques, such as mask wearing, to help slow the spread of the virus, Orange County CEO Frank Kim told City News Service.

As the county rolled out a newly redesigned website Friday evening, health officials recalculated the number of tests done to date from 231,902 reported on Thursday down to 207,720.

The county reported 6,763 documented recoveries.

The total number of Orange County coronavirus cases break down to 50% men and 50% women, but men account for 56% of the deaths, according to the HCA.

Santa Ana leads all county cities with 2,515 cases, followed by Anaheim with 2,289. The high numbers in Orange County’s two largest cities are attributed to their population size and the presence of multiple nursing homes in both cities.

Anaheim, Santa Ana and Huntington Beach account for 82, 81, 37 deaths, respectively, and Los Alamitos and Fullerton for 14 apiece.

In Orange County’s jails, 395 inmates have tested positive for coronavirus with 387 having recovered. Eight inmates are experiencing symptoms are in medical quarantine and officials are awaiting the results of 26 tests.

Kim and Dr. Clayton Chau, the Health Care Agency’s director and interim chief health officer, met with reporters on Thursday to unveil the revamped county COVID-19 website.

They also discussed a $600,000 advertising blitz the county has begun to reach residents in Santa Ana and Anaheim to help educate them about the virus in the hopes of stemming the tide in those hotspots.

After Chau was recently hired, he noticed the rising cases in Santa Ana and Anaheim and set out to meet with officials in those cities to discuss ways to tackle the problem. The newly redesigned website, which includes data by ZIP code in the county, is a product of those discussions, Kim said.

The two emphasized that residents should not be quick to draw too many conclusions about the caseloads in various areas of the county.

“It doesn’t mean you’re safer or at greater risk,” Chau said.

Santa Ana and Anaheim lend themselves in part to higher case loads because of their density and concentration of extended families living together. Three’s also some distrust of government with many immigrants, who fear being deported if they seek help, the two said.

County officials are steering residents toward community clinics, because there is a level of trust there for many immigrants who receive medical aid under the CalOptima insurance program for the area’s needy.

Some residents who cannot physically distance from their relatives and roommates have been placed in hotels by the county so they can recuperate and quarantine, Kim said.

County officials are working on contracting with another hotel to do more of that as they have under Project Roomkey, which sets aside hotel rooms for transients who get infected.

Orange County congressional representatives on Friday sent a letter to county officials critical of how many tests have been administered to residents compared with other counties.

The letter was signed by Reps. Mike Levin, D-Dana Point, Gil Cisneros, D-Fullerton, Katie Porter, D-Irvine, Alan Lowenthal, D-Long Beach, and Linda Sanchez, D-Norwalk.

The congressional representatives, who met with county officials after requesting more information about the county’s testing programs last month, say some residents continue to face obstacles to getting a test.

“Fast, accessible and widespread testing is critical to protecting public health and preventing a resurgence as we continue to reopen,” the letter reads. “Ensuring accessible testing will not only reassure the public on behalf of businesses seeking to reopen, but will also support the contact tracing needed to control future outbreaks.”

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