Orange County’s coronavirus cases keep rising, with 1,169 new diagnoses reported, apparently breaking a county record.
According to the Orange County Health Care Agency’s website, the highest daily case count had been July 6, when 1,050 positive cases of coronavirus were reported.
Over the past couple of weeks, the highest case count was on Nov. 15 when 639 positive cases were reported.
Orange County Supervisor Lisa Bartlett, who is president of the California State Association of Counties, said it will be important now to track hospitalization statistics.
With COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations increasing, Orange County and most of California will fall under a state-mandated soft curfew Saturday night that will bar nonessential activities, gatherings and business operations starting at 10 p.m. nightly.
But whether local authorities will do anything to enforce the order remains unclear.
Orange County Sheriff Don Barnes told City News Service that he has a lot of issues with the stay-at-home order because he believes the resources to enforce it are limited and could lead to civil rights challenges.
Even if deputies issued tickets for a misdemeanor violation for ignoring a state health order, what happens if the person cited refuses to accept it, Barnes asked.
“How far do we go?” he asked. “Is the public comfortable (that) we’re going to potentially arrest you and with force if necessary if a public health order is violated?”
To compound matters, the courts are not holding hearings on misdemeanors, Barnes said.
He said it has been a “difficult year for law enforcement,” starting with COVID-19 and then the “civil unrest following the murder of George Floyd” in Minnesota.
At one point deputies were responding to 58 protests a day.
“These things take a toll on our staff,” Barnes said. “They are exhausted from mental fatigue … I’m not making excuses for them. They are very professional but they’re also people and any one of these in a year would be fatiguing.”
Demanding that law enforcement ensure compliance with health orders “is not fair,” he said.
“I think we’ve gotten significant compliance in the county of Orange. Most people are following the guidelines of public health orders,” Barnes said. “The few who aren’t are few and far between.”
He said the issue is compounded when politicians who issue the health orders are caught violating the guidelines. “We have numerous holiday events ever year and we’re not having them this year because it’s not something we feel comfortable doing this season.”
The “limited Stay At Home” order announced by Gov. Gavin Newsom’s office Thursday applies to all counties in the restrictive “purple” tier of the state’s coronavirus monitoring system –including Orange County. The order will take effect at 10 p.m. Saturday and remain in force until 5 a.m. Dec. 21.
“The virus is spreading at a pace we haven’t seen since the start of this pandemic and the next several days and weeks will be critical to stop the surge,” Newsom said in a statement. “We are sounding the alarm. It is crucial that we act to decrease transmission and slow hospitalizations before the death count surges. We’ve done it before and we must do it again.”
According to the governor’s office, the order is aimed at reducing opportunities for spread of the virus, noting that activities conducted overnight “are often non-essential and more likely related to social activities and gatherings that have a higher likelihood of leading to reduced inhibition and reduced likelihood for adherence to safety measures like wearing a face covering and maintaining physical distance.”
The order isn’t being described as a full-on curfew. State Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly said Thursday it doesn’t completely prevent people from leaving their homes after-hours, noting he still plans to walk his dog late at night.
Bartlett said Dr. Ghaly is growing concerned about the impact the virus is having on children.
“He’s very concerned about young kids getting COVID,” she said. “While they’re not hospitalized and may not die there’s a portion of that population that may end up with serious health issues for an extended period of time.”
Bartlett said Ghaly has suggested tracking the COVID-19 afflicted children over the next several years to chart any lingering issues.
“That’s why we have to protect everyone — the little kids up to the elderly and everyone in between because COVID affects everybody differently both short- and long-term,” Bartlett said.
Orange County was moved into the state’s restrictive “purple” tier on Monday, along with 27 other counties, amid a statewide surge in coronavirus infections and hospitalizations. The move left 41 of the state’s 58 counties — 94.1% of the state’s population — in the “purple” tier.
The move into the restrictive tier forced the banning of indoor service at restaurants and closure of movie theaters, while also prohibiting indoor operations at gyms and fitness centers.
The county’s COVID-19 cumulative stands at 68,336 and its death toll is 1,540.
Of the three deaths reported Friday, one was a skilled nursing facility resident and two were assisted living facility residents.
Last week, the county reported 18 deaths, compared with 24 the week before. Since Sunday, the county has reported 16 deaths.
The number of county residents hospitalized with the virus rose from 304 Thursday to 333 Friday, with the number in the intensive care unit jumping from 83 to 102, according to the Orange County Health Care Agency.
The change in the three-day average of hospitalized patients went from 17.8% to 20.7%. The county has 27% of its intensive care unit beds and 65% of its ventilators available, and county officials are confident local hospitals can handle the surge.
“I think it’s important to take a look at the positive COVID-19 cases in the county, but also as a percentage of those cases, how many of those are individuals who get hospitalized and also keep track of our hospital bed capacity,” County Supervisor Lisa Bartlett said.
Bartlett said state officials are concerned about having enough medical staff to cover its hospital beds, but local medical center executives say they are prepared for the surge.
“Right now we still have significant bed staffing in Orange County,” Bartlett said. “But we need to keep track as COVID cases rise and how many get hospitalized. We want to be sure our health care system doesn’t get overwhelmed.”
Hospital officials must not only keep track of coronavirus hospitalizations, but for other patients as well, Bartlett said.
The state has a “mutual aid” policy regarding medical staffing of hospitals, so if there is a surge regionally outside the county, Orange County’s medical professionals would be assigned where there is the greatest need.
The county’s intensive care units have not seen a sharp rise in patients, which could be owed to “better therapeutics” as doctors get more efficient at treating the virus, Bartlett said.
The biggest source of transmission of coronavirus was attributed to friends and families getting together.
“I think it’s small to medium private gatherings, where people are in close proximity without face coverings,” Bartlett said.
Bartlett and some other Orange County leaders have argued that the tighter restrictions on businesses as the county has been placed back into the most restrictive, purple, tier of the state’s four-tier regulatory system amount to “punishing” businesses when they aren’t as much a vector for the disease.
“We can only shut down so much,” she said. “That’s why with the private gatherings we have to figure out how to target those.”
Orange County CEO Frank Kim said it is also likely that the Nov. 3 election contributed to the rise as well.
“Any time you have a public gathering that could include social or election-related or community protests — we’re not saying you can’t do those things — but we’re saying they’re absolutely one of the areas of greater risk because you’re interacting with people outside of your normal cohorts and you don’t know what parts of the community these people are coming from, so now you have a mixture of people who may or may not be from the same county. It’s an unstable cohort and that is added risk.”
The county is rolling out a program to distribute no-cost home test kits for residents to help encourage quarantining and social distancing.
This most recent surge in Orange County is still dwarfed by the rise in cases in July, when daily case rates reached 1,000 some days. Hospitalization rates soared as high as 700 on some days during the July surge. But Bartlett cautioned that deaths are often a lagging indicator and as hospitalizations increase, fatalities could as well.
The number of tests conducted stands at 1,314,639, which includes 14,542 received Friday.
>> Want to read more stories like this? Get our Free Daily Newsletters Here!Follow us: