Orange County Friday reported 112 new COVID-19 cases and 17 new deaths as hospitalization numbers increased by 10 patients.
Friday’s new cases upped the county’s cumulative count from throughout the pandemic to 252,804 while the death toll rose to 4,886. Four of the new deaths occurred in December due to common delays in the reporting of deaths.
Coronavirus hospitalizations increased from 125 Thursday to 135 Friday, with the number of intensive care unit patients remaining at 29. The county has 35.3% of its ICU beds available and 73% of its ventilators.
“It looks OK, but the total hospitalizations are a four-day increase,” Orange County CEO Frank Kim said. “I checked San Diego and they had the exact same growth.”
The increases are not enough to be considered any sort of a trend one way or the other, Kim said.
As of Thursday, the county’s average daily rate of new COVID cases was 2.9 per 100,000 residents, and the overall positivity rate was 1.5%. The positivity rate in underprivileged communities in the health equity category was 1.6%, Kim said.
“In terms of positivity rates, there isn’t a significant disparity,” Kim said.
Andrew Noymer, a UC Irvine professor of population health and disease prevention, said the county’s trends continue to offer good news.
“Hospitalizations are still holding steady, but not going up appreciably,” Noymer said Thursday.
The county is pumping more shots in arms as the eligibility has widened to anyone 16 and older, Kim said.
“We did almost 16,000 vaccinations yesterday,” Kim said. “We’re taking 16,000 to 17,000 appointments a day, so that’s up a couple of thousand.”
Kim said staff at the vaccination sites have been trained to make sure anyone who is underage has a parent or legal guardian with them. A letter from a parent will not be accepted, he said.
Noymer said it will likely be a few weeks before it is easy to get an appointment for an inoculation.
“I have Twitter followers saying they can’t get appointments,” Noymer said.
“To some extent, you have to be somewhat tenacious if you want a vaccination within the next few weeks. Just because we’re going wide doesn’t mean you weren’t going to have go through some rigamarole.”
Noymer added, “People are just going to need to be patient and keep trying.”
As more people get vaccinated the appointments will open up, Noymer said.
“It will come to the point and, quite frankly sooner than later, when anyone can get a shot anytime where they can and basically walk into any retail pharmacy and get a shot,” he said.
The county on Friday reported 11,463 more COVID-19 tests.
“If things were going to take a turn for the worse those tests would blindside us with positives, and that hasn’t happened, so that’s good news,” Noymer said.
Noymer said he wouldn’t second-guess the federal officials who put a pause on the Johnson & Johnson vaccine because of six cases of potentially dangerous blood clots among millions of vaccinations.
“One thing a lot of people don’t realize is just how high the bar is for these vaccines,” Noymer said. “One-in-a-million blood clots might actually be enough to knock it off the market.”
Noymer acknowledged that some critics of the call by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Food and Drug Administration to “pause” the administration of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine have said the coronavirus is more dangerous than potential adverse effects from the shot.
“People say it’s a bigger adverse event to get COVID, but the safety bar for vaccines is very high and one in a million with these blood clots is borderline unacceptable even though more people will die of COVID,” he said.
“The vaccines have a high safety bar to meet and that’s just a fact. You want to be attentive. You don’t want to put the taint of blood clots on Johnson & Johnson forever, but you also don’t want to be seen ignoring potentially serious side effects.”
For now, county officials will not have to boost staffing at county vaccination sites even though anyone 16 and older can get a shot now, Kim said.
“We don’t have to go too much higher because our dose allocation doesn’t change and we’re still scheduling the same 15,000 or so a day,” Kim said. “So, I don’t think from a staffing level it’s any more significant.”
But when there is a significant increase in vaccine allocations, there will be a boost in staffing, Kim said.
So far, the county has dispensed nearly 2 million doses of vaccine, Kim said.
County-run vaccination sites will be open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. as usual, but on Thursdays, the OC Fair and Event Center site will be open from noon to 8 p.m., Kim said. The Santa Ana College vaccination site also offers noon to 8 p.m. hours on Mondays, he added.
If the night hours are popular officials will consider adding more evening hours in the future, Kim said.
With Friday’s reported fatalities, the death toll for March rose by six to 167. There have been two fatalities reported for April.
The death toll for February increased by three to 567. The death toll for January, the deadliest month in the pandemic, increased by four to 1,505. And four more fatalities in December puts the death toll for that month at 931.
The December and January deaths reflect a surge fueled by the holidays and represent nearly half of the entire death toll for the pandemic in Orange County.
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