Orange County Wednesday reported 31 more COVID-19 fatalities, hiking the death toll above 2,500, and the vaccination site at Disneyland had to be closed for a second consecutive day due to windy weather.
Health officials said that despite those setbacks and 1,701 new cases being reported Wednesday, the good news is that case rates and hospitalization rates are trending down.
Of the deaths reported, one was from a skilled nursing facility. Since the pandemic began, 766 of the fatalities were skilled nursing facility residents and 275 were assisted living facility residents. The death toll now stands at 2,508.
Since Sunday, the county has reported 188 coronavirus-related fatalities. Last week, the county reported 279 deaths, up from 140 the prior week.
The reporting of the fatalities is often delayed as they come from multiple sources. The death toll for December, the deadliest month since the pandemic began, stands at 703, far outpacing the previous high of 379 in July during the summer surge.
The deadliest day since the pandemic started was Dec. 22 when 44 people died.
January appears to be shaping up to even deadlier as 103 deaths have occurred this month.
“It’s really sad, but there is no other way to interpret the data — that it’s related to social gatherings that occur during the holidays,” Orange County CEO Frank Kim said Tuesday.
The good news is that Orange County’s adjusted daily case rate per 100,000 has decreased to 67.1 from 78.8 last week.
The county’s Health Equity Quartile Positivity Rate, which measures the cases in highly affected, needier parts of the county, declined from 24.2% last week to 21.2%.
The county’s seven-day positivity rate dropped from 19.5% to 16.7%
“Over the last five or six days we’ve seen a decline in positivity,” Kim said. “So I see that as a positive trend.”
What’s especially encouraging is that the decline was seen even as the testing volume increased. Given that, “I have more confidence in that decline,” Kim said.
Hospitalization numbers continued to dip, dropping from 2,007 on Tuesday to 1,975, according to the Orange County Health Care Agency. The number of coronavirus patients in intensive care ticked up from 523 to 527.
The county’s state-adjusted ICU bed availability remains at zero, and the unadjusted figure stood at 5.4%. The state created the adjusted metric to reflect the difference in beds available for COVID-19 patients and non- coronavirus patients. The county has 34% of its ventilators available.
The Southern California region remains at zero ICU availability.
“Hospital numbers are down, so that’s good,” said Andrew Noymer, a UC Irvine professor of population health and disease prevention. “ICU numbers are down from the peak, so that’s good, too… Also, testing positivity is going down, so I’m cautiously optimistic that we’re seeing a decline, but heavy emphasis on cautiously optimistic.”
Noymer said he assumes the so-called U.K. variant of coronavirus, which is much more contagious and has been located in San Diego and Los Angeles, is also present in Orange County.
There were setbacks Tuesday and Wednesday when the county had to close its new ”Super POD” (point of distribution) vaccination site at Disneyland due to windy weather. There was concern about gusts uprooting the tents being used at the site, Kim said.
Appointments will resume using the Othena.com platform as soon as weather permits, officials said.
County officials also were concerned about a slowdown in the supply of vaccines, Kim said.
“I was told we were getting around 43,000 doses Wednesday and there might be another 16,000 later this week,” Kim said Tuesday.
“But, for us, our concern is wanting to open up a second POD site,” and that is unlikely without enough vaccines to justify it, Kim said.
“It’s a huge logistical lift to create another POD,” Kim said. “We’re ready to go on another POD site, but we just want to know there’s reliability in the supply to keep both sites operating.”
Ultimately, officials want to open five sites from each region in the county, Kim said.
State officials directed the county to stop using a batch of Moderna’s vaccine from lot 041L20A because of possible allergic reactions for some that are being investigated by the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the manufacturer. That batch of the vaccine was given to 5,217 people in Orange County with no one complaining locally of an allergic reaction.
Kim said the news should not dissuade anyone from getting the Moderna vaccine.
“There have been very few adverse reactions to both Pfizer and Moderna,” Kim said. “From a scientific perspective we have been assured by our public health professionals and the CDC that the vaccines are safe… We remain confident that the vaccine remains good for our community and is safe to be administered.”
People who had appointments to receive vaccinations at the site on Tuesday were rescheduled for Thursday, Kim said.
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, Kim said.
The 16,310 test results reported Wednesday raises the cumulative total to 2,474,297.
The county’s Othena.com app and website, where residents can get vaccination information and make appointments to get inoculated at the Disneyland mega-site that opened last week, have been heavily used since going online last Tuesday. There are about 250,000 people registered in Othena, officials said.
The county has improved from about 3,000 vaccinations to 4,500 a day over the weekend, Kim said.
The outbreak in the county’s jails has continued to decline with the number dropping from 139 inmates infected Tuesday to 126 Wednesday. The number of inmates hospitalized remained at three as officials waiting the results of152 more tests.
Outbreaks at nursing homes — defined as two or more over the past two weeks — continue with 38 skilled nursing facilities reporting outbreaks and 52 elderly assisted living facilities reporting an outbreak.
The delays in dropping off patients from ambulances to local hospitals increased from an average wait time 90% of the time of 29 minutes, 14 seconds Monday to 37 minutes, three seconds on Tuesday.
There are 13 Orange County residents being treated at Fairview Developmental Center in Costa Mesa, which was set up to handle overflow from local hospitals, and 10 patients from Los Angeles County.
Mobile Field Hospitals, which have been set up to help medical centers triage COVID-19 patients, are in operation at UC Irvine, which added 50 beds, Fountain Valley Regional Hospital and Medical Center, 25 beds, and St. Jude’s Hospital in Fullerton with 52 beds, Kim said.
Officials were also in the process of setting up or discussing mobile field hospitals at Mission Hospital in Mission Viejo and Los Alamitos Medical Center.
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