Orange County Wednesday reported just 75 new COVID-19 cases, but hospitalization numbers increased slightly.
The new cases boosted the cumulative number to 251,516 since the pandemic began. The county also logged seven more fatalities, including three that occurred in January.
The trends overall continue to be encouraging, Orange County CEO Frank Kim said.
“When you get such low (case) rates a small outbreak in a school or some other place can really jostle the numbers,” Kim said of any fluctuation.
Hospitalizations of COVID-19 patients in the county increased from 107 Tuesday to 114 Wednesday, with the number of intensive care unit patients climbing from 23 to 29.
The weekly update from the state, issued on Tuesdays, showed the county’s test positivity rate improved from 1.7% to 1.6%, while the adjusted case rate per 100,000 people on a seven-day average with a seven-day lag increased from 2.8 last Tuesday to 3.
The county’s Health Equity Quartile rate, which measures positivity in hotspots in disadvantaged communities, improved from 2.6% last week to 2.1%. So the positivity rates are in the least restrictive yellow tier of the state’s four-tier system for reopening the economy, but the case counts are still in the orange tier.
The county has administered 1.8 million vaccine doses to residents, includes the partially and fully vaccinated population, Kim said. The county is testing 301.5 per 100,000 residents on a seven-day average with a seven-day lag.
Another 9,340 tests were reported Wednesday, upping the cumulative total to 3,414,289.
Demand for tests at the county’s super sites in Anaheim and Costa Mesa have dwindled as residents opt now more for the mail-order tests, Kim said.
“I do believe we’re going to change that model” of testing, Kim said. “By breaking it back down and getting away from the super site concept and having smaller testing kiosks in higher-traffic areas of the county.”
The overall death toll climbed to 4,791 Wednesday.
Due to the seven deaths logged Wednesday, the county’s death toll for March increased to 126, far below the February number of 555. The death toll for January, the deadliest month by far during the pandemic, stands at 1,474, while December’s was 922.
The December and January death tolls reflect a holiday-fueled surge. The monthly totals continue to be adjusted as deaths are confirmed as being COVID-related.
The county has 34.2% of its ICU beds available and 71% of its ventilators.
Gov. Gavin Newsom announced Tuesday that California will end its color-coded system on June 15, when all restrictions on businesses, gatherings and recreational activity will be lifted except for the face-covering requirement. The date was chosen because it will be two months after vaccines will be made available to all Californians age 16 and older.
Andrew Noymer, a UC Irvine professor of population health and disease prevention, said he was surprised state officials made an announcement this soon.
“It seems we will be in a good place in June, but it’s a bit far in advance,” Noymer said. “I liked what they were doing (with the tier system) and now they’re undoing it.”
But, Noymer added, “I do have reason to believe optimism is warranted. … If we can make it to summer without a Michigan-style reversal of fortune there’s good reason to believe we won’t have another wave until November.”
Given there could be a seasonal surge in the winter, like with the flu, “it makes sense to have a more relaxed summer to keep our powder dry for (restrictions) later,” Noymer said.
The health-equity positivity rate is down due to officials focusing on vaccinating everyone 16 and older in the four ZIP codes hardest hit by the pandemic in the county, Kim said.
As for the state’s announcement on the tier system ending, Kim said, “I think it makes sense, but it’s a little bit early for us to pass judgment on.”
Kim would like to track the case counts over the next 30 days before deciding whether to continue with the system in place or not beyond June, but business owners also need time to prepare for a full reopening of the economy too, he said.
“I think it’s a little bit of a tricky balance,” Kim said. “But I think most people have an expectation that the summer is going to look good and vaccine quantities have grown.”
The county received 105,000 doses of vaccine this week. Officials are working hard to prepare for a surge of vaccine seekers when it is open to everyone by mid-April, Kim said.
The county’s move into the orange tier of the state’s Blueprint for a Safer Economy last week allowed restrictions to be eased on a variety of business sectors. Retail stores now do not have to limit attendance at all, and churches, movie theaters, museums, zoos and aquariums were allowed to expand from 25% to 50% of capacity.
Restaurants were given permission to expand indoor dining to 50% and wineries to offer indoor service at 25%, while bars that don’t serve food got the green light to reopen outdoors. Gyms and fitness centers were cleared to expand to 25% of capacity, and family entertainment centers can offer indoor attractions such as bowling.
Under current rules, the county’s new case rate must dip below 2 per 100,000 residents to make it to the yellow tier.