Orange County Friday reported 3,158 new coroanvirus cases and 82 more COVID-19 fatalities, a record for a daily batch, as authorities struggled to find room to store victims’ bodies.
Since Sunday, the county has reported 236 deaths. Last week, the county logged 140 deaths.
The death reports are staggered and sometimes take weeks to be logged, but December was the deadliest month for the county since the pandemic began, with 538 fatalities recorded so far. That tops the summer peak, when 379 died in July and 367 in August, according to Orange County Health Care Agency statistics. The deadliest day so far was Dec. 22, when 32 died.
January’s logged death toll so far is 30, with the most recent fatality reported Jan. 4. So far, January’s pace has exceeded December’s, indicating it could be a deadlier month.
Of the fatalities reported Friday — bringing the death toll to 2,277 — 12 were skilled nursing facility residents and five lived in assisted living facilities. Since the start of the pandemic, the virus has killed 721 skilled nursing facility residents and 248 assisted living facility residents.
The Orange County Sheriff’s Coroner’s Department has had to provide trailers with freezers to store an average of about 100 bodies until funeral homes can catch up and take them, Orange County CEO Frank Kim said.
Hospitalization rates dipped slightly, with the number of patients hospitalized with coronavirus dropping from 2,169 on Thursday to 2,101 on Friday, according to the HCA. The number of intensive care unit patients declined from 544, just short of Sunday’s record of 547, to 534.
The county’s state-adjusted ICU bed availability remains at zero, and the unadjusted figure decreased from 7.4% Thursday to 7.2% 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 remains at zero ICU availability.
According to the HCA, the county has 36% of its ventilators available.
The 27,279 tests reported Friday raises the cumulative total to 2,376,542, according to the HCA. The cumulative case count stands at 205,911.
Orange County’s adjusted daily case rate per 100,000 — released on Tuesdays — increased to 78.8 from 67.8 last week.
The county’s Health Equity Quartile Positivity Rate, which measures the cases in highly affected, needier parts of the county, rose to 24.2% from 23.4% last week.
The good news is that the county’s positivity rate has declined slightly over the past several days, Kim said. Five days ago, it was 19.75% and now it’s down to about 18%, Kim said. Testing demand is also slowing, while the demand for vaccinations is soaring, he said.
“While it’s minor, it’s reduced and it takes us back to where we were two weeks ago,” Kim said of the slight declines.
Officials do not expect a significant drop in hospitalization rates until at least the end of January, Kim said.
The county’s Othena.com app and website, where residents can get vaccination information and make appointments to get innoculated at the Disneyland mega-site that opened Wednesday, has been heavily downloaded and used since going online Tuesday.
The website hits and downloads of the app topped 100 million combined this week, Kim said.
The county on Thursday opened up 3,600 appointment slots for Sunday, and they were all taken in 13 minutes, he said.
On Friday, some of the residents being inoculated at Disneyland were given a ticket so staff could track how long it took them to get through the process, Kim said. What was taking an hour or two on Wednesday was down to 42 minutes on Friday, Kim said.
“I was really happy we got it under an hour,” he said. “That means we can start increasing capacity.”
The county will hire about 120 temporary workers to help with staffing, Kim said. Another team is working on recruiting and screening volunteers, he said.
Officials are also working out the bugs on the app, Kim said, adding that a new version awaiting Apple’s approval is expected to address the most common concerns and issues.
“We think the majority of the issues are behind us now,” Kim said.
Dr. Clayton Chau, the county’s chief health officer and HCA director, said seniors 65 and older were moved to the front of the line for vaccines this week, immediately following the state’s modified guidelines. He noted that a survey showed 54% of the COVID-19 patients hospitalized in 13 OC hospitals are 61 and older and 71% in ICUs are 61 and older. Nearly 72% of those on a ventilator are 61 and older.
“Seventy-five percent of those who have died in Orange County are also seniors, aged 65 or over,” Chau said Tuesday.
For the past two weeks, the county has set up pop-up clinics to bring vaccines to “high-density pockets of seniors” in the community, Kim said.
Orange County expects to spend between $60 million to $70 million on the Super POD vaccine sites, he said. Ultimately, the county wants to have up to five of the mega-sites and to place them regionally throughout the county with the next one either on the north end or the south end.
But first, the county wants to stabilize the Disneyland site and have enough trained volunteers committed to staffing it before opening a second one, which would be backfilled by staff in case volunteers do not show up for work, Kim said.
Also, the county needs enough supply of vaccines to justify opening another site, officials say.
The county is expecting 35,000 more doses next week, Chau said, and is handling distribution of about 20% of the doses sent from the state, with healthcare providers doling out the rest.
Sheriff’s officials reported a decline in the number of Orange County Jail inmates infected with coronavirus from 254 Thursday to 181 on Friday. Authorities are awaiting results from 428 tests, and three inmates are hospitalized, down from five on Tuesday.
Outbreaks — defined as two more cases in the past two weeks — have been plaguing skilled nursing and elderly assisted living facilities. As of Friday, 38 skilled nursing facilities and 49 assisted living facilities were dealing with outbreaks.
The average time to drop off patients from ambulances stands at 49 minutes and 59 seconds 90% of the time.
Fairview Developmental Center is housing a 13 Orange County coronavirus patients and a dozen from Los Angeles County.
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