Orange County officials reported a record 1,333 new COVID-19 cases Wednesday, along with seven more deaths.
The previous high number of cases was 1,028, which was reported Monday and included some infections dating back to June 18 due to a backlog of reporting from the state, according to the Orange County Health Care Agency.
There have been 20,225 confirmed cases of the coronavirus in Orange County since the pandemic began and 376 deaths.
The number of hospitalized patients increased from 659 Tuesday to 679 Wednesday. The number of patients in intensive care rose from 224 to 234.
“The numbers are going to stay high for the next seven days,” Orange County CEO Frank Kim told City News Service on Tuesday.
The rise in infections were expected as officials relaxed restrictions on economic activity, Kim said. However, there has been a significant rise in infections in the 25-to-34 age group, Kim said.
“They’re number one with a bullet,” Kim said.
That might explain why the intensive-care unit figure has not risen as much as hospitalizations, Kim said.
“They do end up in a hospital, but not in the ICU, so that is a conclusion you could draw, but we don’t know yet that is true,” Kim said, adding that it is difficult to determine because officials lack the data.
“When people are bad they don’t admit their poor behavior” to contact tracers, Kim said, referring to risky behavior such as partying with friends and refusing to wear a mask.
Orange County Supervisor Lisa Bartlett on Monday said it would appear that the events that likely led to such a marked increase in spread of the infection were Memorial Day weekend gatherings and protests stemming from the George Floyd killing in Minneapolis.
On June 18, there were six specimens that led to COVID-19 positive diagnoses, but by June 24 there were 125. The number steadily climbed to 196 on June 26 and then trended down again.
“That would be the incubation period,” Bartlett said of the two- to three-week incubation period for the virus before symptoms emerge.
“How do you go from one week you’ve got two and a week later 159? There’s something that was a trigger point to have that kind of an increase and those are dates the specimen was collected, which makes sense when they’re getting sick two or three weeks out.”
Since the pandemic began, 1,267 of the county’s infections were from skilled nursing facilities, 416 were from the county’s jails, and 111 were transients.
Of those who died, 194 were from skilled nursing facilities, 14 were from assisted living facilities and two were transients. Three of the seven reported fatalities since Tuesday were from skilled nursing facilities.
In the county’s jails, 390 of the 416 infected since the pandemic began have recovered, but 26 are in medical isolation with symptoms and authorities are awaiting results of 46 tests.
County officials reported that they have performed 285,482 COVID-19 tests, with 9,174 documented recoveries.
The county’s case and hospitalization rate has kept it on the state’s watch list, which will continue to prevent the county from reopening inside dining at restaurants and bars, among other businesses that were closed to help tamp down the surge of infections.
The county’s case rate rose from 222 per 100,000 on Tuesday to 237.9 Wednesday, much higher than the state’s preferred target of 25 per 100,000. The rate of testing positive for COVID-19 rose from 14.2% to 14.9%, higher than the state threshold of 8%.
The county’s intensive care unit beds available declined from 40.2% on Tuesday to 39.6%, better than the state standard of 20%.
The percent of ventilators available decreased from 66.7% Tuesday to 65.8% Wednesday, much better than the state standard of 25%.
The change in the three-day average of increased hospitalized patients decreased from 10.6% to 9.4%, just under the 10% state standard.
Kim said hospital officials have told him as recently as Friday that while they are still preparing for a surge they are not sounding any alarms about being able to handle the increases in patients.
“For sure they’re managing bed capacity, but they didn’t seem freaked out,” Kim said.
Orange County Sheriff Don Barnes sent a letter on Tuesday to Gov. Gavin Newsom regarding enforcement. Newsom has established “strike teams” of inspectors from state agencies who will fan out and enforce the state’s guidelines regarding social distancing and face coverings.
Erin Mellon, a spokeswoman for Newsom, said the letter has been received and that Newsom’s staff was “reviewing” it.
Barnes criticized reporters for creating a “perception of a conflict between the efforts of the state of California and the county of Orange” to get residents to comply with the state’s guidelines to thwart the spread of coroanvirus.
Barnes has been criticized for telling the Orange County Board of Supervisors that his department would not be “the mask police.”
Barnes said in his letter, “I want to make clear that I support wearing face coverings in accordance with recommendations by our public health officials.”
Barnes emphasized that on “numerous occasions” he has reinforced the message of “the importance of abiding by health guidelines.”
But Barnes said his “enforcement strategy” is “based on education, not punishment. While these comments have been portrayed as being in conflict with health orders, I believe they complement California’s efforts to address the virus.”
Barnes said that going beyond education “is only necessary in instances where egregious violations occur.”
Barnes said his deputies have found that most people in the county do what they can to comply with the recommendations of public health professionals.
“Punitive escalated enforcement is not practical and would consume resources needed to handle our daily calls for service and work to address violations of criminal law,” Barnes wrote.
“Additionally, the issuance of new fines during this time of economic uncertainty places undue stresses on the public and could exacerbate a peaceful law enforcement interaction into a volatile moment. We will evaluate our enforcement posture on an ongoing basis and can redeploy resources as needed.”
Barnes said his department’s deputies patrol 25% of the county’s population, which accounts for 10.6% of the county’s COVID-19 cases. He also boasted how his department has contained coronavirus cases in his jails since the pandemic began.
County officials on Wednesday also notified the public that the state is ordering that youth sports practices are no longer allowed. The county allowed the practices since mid-June.
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