Orange County reported 255 new cases of COVID-19 and seven additional deaths Tuesday, bringing the county’s totals to 58,980 cases and 1,454 fatalities.
The relatively high number of daily cases continues to jeopardize the county’s chance to move into a less-restrictive tier of the state’s re-opening road-map. County officials have said the daily average would have to come down to about 130 for Orange County to move from the red to the orange tier, allowing for more businesses to reopen and for some already open to increase their capacity.
If the trend continues the county could face a slip back into the most restrictive purple tier.
“I hope not, but I guess it depends on the day of the week those cases are related to,” Orange County CEO Frank Kim said of the coronavirus cases reported Tuesday. “It could be over the last two weeks. If that’s the case it’s not as bad, but the trend is not positive.”
Kim said the rise in cases is a “similar trend to what we’re seeing in Southern California,” so if cases rise elsewhere in the Southland it is likely inevitable they will also rise in Orange County.
“The concern most people have is we’re heading into the holiday season and we’re worried that with the continued rise in cases we could end up in another crisis with hospitalization challenges, but I guess the good news so far is we haven’t seen the case counts impact the hospitalizations, so that is the best news so far.”
The number of hospitalizations related to the virus declined from 162 Monday to 157, with the number of intensive care unit patients dropping from 59 to 56, according to the Orange County Health Care Agency.
The change in the three-day average of hospitalized patients went from -6.5% to -4.1%. The county has 35% of its intensive care unit beds and 70% of its ventilators available.
According to OCHCA data, 1,075,250 COVID-19 tests have been conducted since the start of the pandemic, including 8,402 reported Tuesday. There have been 52,643 documented recoveries.
The county’s positivity rate, which is reported each Tuesday, has remained at 3.2% for the last three weeks, but the daily case rate per 100,000 population increased from 4.6 last week to 5.1. That leaves the county still close to moving up from the red to the orange tier in the state’s four-tier monitoring system.
The county’s Health Equity Quartile Positivity Rate, which is a mandate to focus on hot spots in counties, stands at 6%. The county has to reach at least 5.2% in that metric to move up to the orange tier.
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.
Dr. Matthew Zahn, the medical director of the county’s communicable disease control division, said at Thursday’s weekly news conference on the county’s response to the disease that while coronavirus is particularly risky for people with underlying health conditions and the elderly, “we have certainly seen significant illness and death in younger populations.”
Also, young adults should also be aware that they “can spread (the virus) to other people, to loved ones around them, who are particularly at risk,” Zahn said. “And they’re at risk themselves. This is not the flu. This virus remains difficult and is a significant risk for any age group.”
According to a memo Thursday from Dr. Clayton Chau, the director of the OCHCA and chief health officer for the county, efforts since this summer to tamp down the spread of COVID-19 in hot spots in Santa Ana and Anaheim have led to a 74.4% reduction in positivity rates — from an average of 22.5% July 7 to 5.8% as of Oct. 19.
Dr. Margaret Bredehoft, deputy agency director of public health services, announced a new program by the county and the Orange County Department of Education to staff a team of school nurses who will be available to parents evenings during the week and from 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. on weekends. The nurses will help with preparing parents to quarantine infected students and provide other guidance to school officials on disinfecting classrooms and other measures to curb spread of the virus.
Bredehoft also announced a campaign encouraging mask usage among students. Students in elementary through high school grades are being encouraged to participate in a contest of essays, videos or art promoting face coverings to curb the spread of coronavirus to help win technology grants for their school.
Dr. Philip Robinson, medical director of infection prevention and hospital epidemiology at Hoag Memorial Hospital Presbyterian, told City News Service that experts expect another wave of coronavirus this fall. Zahn agreed that there is potential for another wave because colder temperatures drive more people indoors, where the virus can be spread more efficiently. The annual flu season can compound it, he said.
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