Orange County health officials have reported nine more COVID-19 fatalities, which makes 24 deaths in a three-day period, mostly involving skilled nursing facility residents.

The death toll from the coronavirus in the county stands at 174 as of Friday, according to the Orange County Health Care Agency, which also reported 296 newly diagnosed COVID-19 cases, raising the overall total to 7,064.

The number of hospitalized patients decreased from 293 to 283, and the number of patients in intensive care units dipped from 129 to 123.

The number of people tested for the virus in the county stands at 148,371, with 3,021 documented recoveries.

All nine of the fatalities reported Friday were skilled nursing facility residents, according to the HCA, bringing to 84 the number of deaths in the county involving nursing home residents.

Five of the seven fatalities reported Thursday were skilled nursing facility residents and one was an assisted living facility resident. Seven of the eight fatalities reported on Wednesday involved skilled nursing home residents.

The HCA has reported outbreaks at 26 skilled nursing homes, three assisted living facilities and two care homes. An outbreak is defined as having at least two coronavirus cases.

HCA Assistant Director Lilly Simmering said Thursday the agency is boosting testing capacity in institutional settings and is “increasing the number of staff working at skilled nursing home facilities.”

The agency also continues to work with UC Irvine on a “training curriculum” with skilled nursing home facility staff “to ensure that their facilities are hygienic and doing proper precautions for COVID-19,” she said.

As of mid-week, 867 nursing home residents had tested positive for coronavirus and 427 staffers had contracted the virus, increases of 81 and 46, respectively, since Monday.

In Orange County’s jails, 381 inmates have tested positive for coronavirus with 367 now recovered. Fourteen inmates are currently sick and in medical isolation. Sheriff’s officials are awaiting tests on 84 inmates.

Orange County CEO Frank Kim told reporters Thursday officials are concerned that widespread protests against police brutality will boost coronavirus cases.

“We’re always concerned when we see a large group gathering,” Kim said.

Officials respect the rights of protesters to speak out, but implore the activists to follow social distancing guidelines of keeping six feet apart and wearing face coverings, Kim said.

Simmering echoed the importance of face coverings. She said county officials appreciate the objections of some residents, but the practice has helped stem the spread of coronavirus in other countries.

“It is not for your individual protection,” Simmering said. “It is to protect others… from potentially contracting COVID-19 if you do not know you have it.”

If the county’s hospitalization rates improve, then county officials will consider lifting the requirement, Simmering said.

The county’s chief health officer, Dr. Nichole Quick, was “coming from a perspective of the medicine and the science” of masks as a preventative measure when she handed down the order, Simmering said.

Quick told the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday that there has been a rise in “community transmission” of the coronavirus since stay-at-home orders have been relaxed, and hospitalization rates “have been trending up.”

She defended her order to require masks for residents wherever they cannot maintain social distancing, after coming under fire from Supervisor Don Wagner, who suggested there was “conflicting data out there” on the necessity for face coverings.

Quick — who has been provided extra protection from law enforcement due to threats she’s received over her stance on masks — said wherever face covering orders were implemented, the rate of spread of the coronavirus went down. She said it’s important as more residents return to jobs in businesses that had been shut down that face coverings be used to help stop the spread of the coronavirus, while stressing the importance of physical distancing, handwashing and staying home when sick.

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