Hospitalizations of COVID-19 patients in Orange County have continued to climb to record levels, and the death toll has also taken a sharp uptick, Orange County Health Care Agency officials reported.
The agency logged 17 more coronavirus deaths as of Friday. The fatalities did not occur in the past 24 hours, but over the course of the past couple of weeks or so as the death reports come from multiple sources. Officials said, however, that the recent rise in cases will inevitably lead to more fatalities.
So far this week, 26 deaths have been reported, compared with 26 logged from Nov. 22 through Saturday. The total death toll stands at 1,603.
The county reported 1,234 new diagnoses, raising the cumulative case total to 82,887.
The county has 746 patients hospitalized with COVID-19, up from 735 on Thursday — a new record. The number of the patients in intensive care units rose from 179 on Thursday to 195 on Friday. The ICU high — 245 — was set in mid-July.
The key metric officials are eyeing is the percentage of ICU beds available in the Southern California region. If it falls below 15%, new restrictions on businesses kick in as part of a new stay-at-home order outlined by Gov. Gavin Newsom.
The percentage of ICU beds available in Orange County stands at 20%, up from 17% on Thursday. As of Thursday, the Southern California region had 20.60% of its ICU beds available and 55% of its ventilators.
“We’re all waiting for the other shoe to drop,” Orange County CEO Frank Kim said of the regional ICU bed availability, which had not been posted as of mid-Friday afternoon.
Kim said officials noticed an increase in demand for coronavirus tests Nov. 4, which predicted this surge.
“Every single day we were increasing our testing numbers,” Kim said. “People are signing up and coming to test because they have had significant exposure to someone with Covid that they’re concerned about or they have symptoms.”
Friday was the first day officials saw a dip in testing demand, but Kim said that is likely because of the Bond Fire, which broke out Wednesday night in Silverado Canyon and forced evacuations.
“If we have four or five days of declining test rates that might be a good sign, but one day is not a trend,” Kim said. “I see a continued growth in testing demand, and in those circumstances and this environment I would expect to see similar levels of hospitalizations.”
The 15% threshold is probably too low, said Andrew Noymer, a UC Irvine associate professor of population health and disease prevention.
“When it is 15% it’s already too late,” Noymer said. “You might have the capacity in 48 hours to be full… Even though it sounds reasonable, by the time the ICUs hit 85% you’re already going 100 mph, and so (Gov. Gavin Newsom) is saying we’ll slam on the brakes, and at 85 you’re going to hit the barricade.”
Officials are bracing for another surge from Thanksgiving travel and gatherings as well as Black Friday shopping. That effect of those events could be felt as soon as next week. The county is readying Fairview Developmental Center, which has 180 beds, to be used to handle an overflow of patients.
Hospitals in the region are struggling to staff the ICU beds, which require a higher degree of training for nurses to manage.
“Like many hospitals throughout the state, Orange County Global Medical Center is working hard to treat the surge in COVID-19 patients,” said Derek Drake, CEO of the hospital. “While we are not yet at capacity, additional ICU staffing is needed. Despite these challenges, our healthcare workers are doing a tremendous job and displaying their selflessness, talent and skills on a daily basis to help serve our patients and communities.”
The state’s tiered monitoring system metrics were updated again Tuesday. The adjusted daily case rate per 100,000 rose from 18.7 on Monday to 22.2 on Tuesday, with the positivity rate going up from 7.6% to 8.8%.
The county’s Health Equity Quartile Positivity Rate, which measures the cases in highly affected, needier parts of the county, stands at 13%, nearly three times higher than it was last reported Nov. 10.
All of the county’s metrics now fall within the state’s most-restrictive, purple, tier of the four-tier coronavirus monitoring system.
Vaccines are now expected to be distributed to each county to be doled out to each hospital, Kim said. Before, the plan was for regional hospital systems to get the vaccines directly while the counties doled out the medicine to individual hospitals.
The county received 14,561 test results on Friday, upping the cumulative to 1,512,749.
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