Drive-up vaccination
Drive-up vaccination in Los Angeles County. photo

Orange County Health Care Agency officials got a scare Wednesday when it appeared about 6,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine were potentially spoiled at the Soka University vaccination site in Aliso Viejo due to a refrigeration glitch, but hours later got word from the company that they were still OK to use.

The Pfizer vaccine must be put in a special deep freezer, and then is transferred to a refrigerator to begin thawing. The next step is to mix it and let it fully thaw at room temperature before inoculations can begin. The vaccine should be used within six hours of being thawed to room temperature, Orange County CEO Frank Kim said.

The pharmacists who arrived at work at 4:30 a.m. to begin the process of preparing the vaccines noticed the refrigerator had malfunctioned and was not operating within the specific required temperature range, Kim said.

The vaccines stored in that refrigerator were put aside and other doses were brought in so appointments made for Wednesday would not be affected. Later, Pfizer informed county officials that the doses could still be used, Orange County Board of Supervisors Andrew Do told City News Service.

The county Wednesday reported a continued downward trend in coronavirus cases and hospitalizations.

“It’s all moving in the right direction,” Kim said of the case and hospitalization rates. “But I’ll wait a week to see if there are Super Bowl issues… We’ll see how the next week looks.”

He was referring to a potential bump up in cases due to Super Bowl gatherings Sunday.

The number of coronavirus patients in county hospitals decreased from 1,058 on Tuesday to 1,009 on Wednesday, and the number of patients in intensive care decreased from 324 to 310, according to the Orange County Health Care Agency.

The county’s state-adjusted ICU bed availability remains at zero, and the unadjusted figure increased from 10.2% Tuesday to 12.1% Wednesday. The state created the adjusted metric to reflect the difference in beds available for COVID-19 patients and non-coronavirus patients.

The OCHCA reported 454 new COVID-19 cases on Wednesday, raising the cumulative total to 240,220, and 35 more fatalities, raising the death toll to 3,451.

The death reports are staggered because they come from a variety of sources and are not always logged immediately.

January was the deadliest month for COVID-19 in Orange County with 893 fatalities. The December death toll stands at 853. That means about half of the county’s fatalities since its first death last March 19 happened in December and January.

Of the most recently logged deaths, seven were skilled nursing facility residents and three were assisted living facility residents, raising the number of deaths in those categories to 879 and 380, respectively.

The OCHCA also reported 19,850 tests Wednesday, bringing the total to 2,817,697.

The adjusted daily case rate per 100,000 people dropped from 39 last Tuesday to 29.7 this week, and the test positivity rate on a seven-day average, with a seven-day lag, dropped from 10.9% last week to 9.4%.

The county’s Health Equity Quartile Positivity Rate, which measures the cases in highly affected, needier parts of the county, declined from 13.9% last week to 12.4%.

The numbers for the state’s color-coded tier framework are updated on Tuesdays.

To move to the less-restrictive red tier from the top purple tier in the state’s coronavirus regulatory system, the county has to improve to 4 to 7 new daily cases per 100,000 and a 5% to 8% positivity rate with a health equity quartile at 5.3% to 8%.

Outbreaks — defined as two or more cases within the past two weeks — have been reported at 11 skilled nursing facilities and 25 elderly assisted living facilities.

The Fairview Developmental Center, where patients transitioning out of hospitals are taken, housed 36 patients, including 13 from Orange County, six from Los Angeles County, two from Riverside County and one from San Bernardino County.

As of Tuesday in Orange County’s jails, 12 inmates were infected and two were hospitalized as officials awaited results of 209 tests.

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