Orange County again set new COVID-19 records for hospitalized and intensive care unit patients while adding 26 more fatalities.
The number of hospitalized patients increased from 2,251 Thursday to 2,259 Friday, including intensive care unit patients climbing from 502 to 514. Both are new records, according to the Orange County Health Care Agency.
The death toll climbed to 1,998. Of the fatalities reported Friday, which all date back to last month, nine were skilled nursing facility residents and three were assisted living facility residents.
Since the pandemic began, 673 of the dead were skilled nursing facility residents and 206 were from assisted living facilities.
County officials also reported 3,544 new diagnoses of coronavirus, raising the cumulative total to 181,277.
There have been 97 fatalities reported this week. The death reports come from a variety of sources, so they are staggered and happened last month.
The most recent deaths happened on Dec. 29, when one person fell victim to coronavirus. Dec. 14 marked a daily record during the pandemic, when 23 people died, erasing the previous record of 20 on July 31. On Dec. 13, 21 people succumbed to COVID-19.
Last week, the county reported 56 COVID-19 fatalities, down from 85 the week before.
“It’s going to get worse,” said Orange County CEO Frank Kim, referring to the expected surge of Christmas and New Year’s-related cases.
“People were not behaving around the holidays, so I’m fearful the numbers will be worse,” Kim said. “Our case rates have not come down and the testing positivity rates are climbing.”
The positivity rate is about 18%, Kim said.
Orange County Supervisor Lisa Bartlett said the county had only 41 intensive care unit beds available.
“They are starting to put patients in cath labs and other parts of the hospital,” Bartlett said. “There aren’t available rooms and space so they’re using every single opportunity of space within a hospital environment for patients.”
State officials are pushing hospitals to get patients who are recovering into assisted living facilities or elsewhere to free up hospital beds, Bartlett said.
Hospital officials are also instructing staff on rationed care and to prepare for it, Bartlett said.
“And we have not yet hit the Christmas and New Year’s spikes,” Bartlett said, adding the beginning of that surge is happening now.
Help is on the way with vaccines. Orange County Fire Authority firefighters have been vaccinating frontline workers, but now state officials have widened the pool of available medical workers who can inoculate residents, Bartlett said.
Nursing students and physician assistants are among those who can now vaccinate residents, she added.
“We have a new pool to choose from for vaccinators,” she said.
County officials are working on setting up two super sites, which will be announced next week, where vaccines will be distributed. Kim said it is an effort to help out hospitals dole out vaccines as doctors and nurses are too overwhelmed with caring for patients now.
There were 27,224 tests reported on Friday, raising the cumulative to 2,206,882, according to the Orange County Health Care Agency.
The Orange County Jail’s recent outbreak saw a steep decline on Friday with the number of infected inmates dropping from 1,020 to 465. The county is awaiting the results of 979 tests.
The number of hospitalized inmates remained at six, according to Orange County Sheriff’s Department Sgt. Dennis Breckner.
Part of the reason the number of infections has come down is Health Care Agency officials are catching up on analyzing test results, Breckner said.
The county’s state-adjusted ICU bed availability remains at zero, and the unadjusted figure decreased from 5.6% Thursday to 4.5% Friday. The state created the adjusted metric to reflect the difference in beds available for COVID-19 patients and non-coronavirus patients.
The Southern California region is at zero ICU capacity.
The county’s availability of ventilators inched up from 33% Thursday to 34%.
Outbreaks at the county’s skilled nursing facilities and elderly assisted living facilities — defined as two or more cases within 14 days — are an ongoing problem for the county. The county has seen 46 outbreaks at skilled nursing facilities and at 28 elderly assisted living facilities.