Orange County set another daily record for coronavirus cases Tuesday, announcing 779 infections, along with 10 additional deaths.
County officials earlier Tuesday reported three new deaths, but the county’s website updated its numbers in the afternoon to show 10 newly confirmed fatalities. More backdated reports of fatalities were received later Tuesday after the initial report, officials said.
The totals do not reflect the number of diagnoses in the last 24 hours, but are acquired from the state and could have been diagnosed days or weeks ago.
The deaths reported Tuesday bring the number to 17 this week and 340 overall. Last week was the deadliest of the pandemic in Orange County, with 56 deaths reported. The county’s total coronavirus case is 13,843.
Of the COVID-19 diagnoses reported Tuesday, 43% are from the past week, officials said.
The number of hospitalized patients in Orange County rose from 485 on Monday to 510, with the number of patients in intensive care increasing from 175 to 176.
The county has performed 233,281 COVID-19 tests, with 7,423 documented recoveries as of Tuesday.
Orange County Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Michelle Steel issued a statement saying that the “most recent specimen collection date reflected in this report is from” Friday.
“While the report today — and the recent increased rate of infections — is concerning, the county and our local health system continue to be prepared to respond to protect the health and safety of our residents,” she said.
Steel “strongly encouraged” residents to “follow guidelines as outlined by federal, state and local health officials, which include wearing face coverings, following good hygiene practices, including regular hand washing, and adhering to social distancing.”
Gov. Gavin Newsom said Monday Orange County, along with Solano, Merced and Glenn counties, had been added to the state Department of Public Health’s watch list due to increasing percentages of positive tests.
If Orange County remains on the list for three consecutive days, then state officials will recommend a closure of the county’s bars, said Orange County CEO Frank Kim.
If the county remains on the watch list after 14 days, the state will order the bars closed. If that happens, the county’s bars would have to remain closed for an additional two weeks beyond when they clear the watch list, Kim added.
Officials are eyeing their own order to close bars by Wednesday.
The county’s plan is to have the chief health officer, Dr. Clayton Chau, who is also the director of the Orange County Health Care Agency, issue a bar closure order. Any order would be made after consulting with the Board of Supervisors, said Supervisor Lisa Bartlett.
“We can’t just have Orange County be the only county with bars open on the Fourth of July weekend. It’s going to be a magnet,” Bartlett said.
“I think we want to be proactive. If you voluntarily close down, then when you have so many days off the watch list, you can reopen those business sectors. We would rather have control over our own destiny… We’re going to take the lead of our public health officer.”
County officials have gotten a handle on all of the congregant living facilities where an outbreak could drive up cases such as homeless shelters, jails and now the nursing homes after weeks of outbreaks there, Bartlett said.
“All of these increases to our positivity rates are community transmission,” Bartlett said.
The best way to stem the tide of community transmission is to encourage facial coverings and social distancing, she said.
Orange County Supervisor Andrew Do echoed those sentiments in a news conference Tuesday in which he announced a contract with Latino Health Access for a new program providing more outreach to residents in the county’s hot spots of Santa Ana and Anaheim.
“There is no question in my mind now for the need for social distancing, good sanitation practices and face coverings,” Do said.
“With the Fourth of July weekend coming if we are not careful about protecting each other we may reach a point where we need to shut down parts of the county and economy.”
The escalating numbers of infections and deaths “should really silence to a large degree any debate over the necessities for these measures I mentioned earlier,” Do said. “It’s no longer a political question or issue — it’s really a health issue.”
Officials say many residents work in occupations that preclude working from home such as grocery stores or landscaping, and are also in higher-density housing so they cannot quarantine successfully at home if they fall ill.
County officials are offering motel rooms for those residents who cannot quarantine at home.
Eight out of the 10 highest case rates in the county are in Anaheim and Santa Ana, Do said.
Do said he expected a rise in cases when the economy was reopened, “But I have to admit… within the last two to four weeks they have been a little bit alarming.”
Do emphasized that people living in the nation illegally should not fear participating in the new outreach program for local residents.
“Undocumented immigrants should not be fearful about being tested,” Do said. “No immigration status will be asked or shared with anyone… We want to be culturally sensitive and respond effectively in a way that will penetrate these disadvantaged communities.”
The program will also include a mobile response team to help stem any spread in schools when they reopen, Do said.
Supervisor Doug Chaffee said if the program “works it will be a pilot program that we can apply to other hot spots in the county.”
The county’s case rate rose from 109.2 per 100,000 residents on Monday to 115.2 per 100,000 on Tuesday. The positive test rate increased from 9.3% to 9.9%, according to health officials.
The state has set a desired standard average of 25 positive cases per 100,000 over a 14-day period, and a seven-day average positivity rate of 8%.
The three-day average increase of hospitalized patients is 9.7%, creeping up on the state’s threshold of 10%. But that is down from Monday when it was at 11.6%.
Being added to the state’s watch list initially means only that state health officials will work more closely with local officials on efforts to manage the spread of the virus.
However, it could potentially lead to more dramatic actions, as evidenced on Sunday when Newsom ordered all bars closed in Los Angeles and other counties seeing virus spikes.
Orange County is in good shape in terms of hospital beds available. The county has 40.6% of its intensive care unit beds available, above the state threshold of 20%, and has 67% of its ventilators available, above the state standard of 25%.
Of the fatalities, 175 were from nursing homes, and two were transients.
Orange County sheriff’s officials reported that 401 inmates have tested positive for COVID-19, with 390 having recovered. There are 11 sick inmates in medical isolation and officials are awaiting results of 34 tests.