Nurse treats COVID-19 patient in ICU
A nurse treats a coronavirus patient in an ICU. Image from Scripps Health video

Orange County has logged another 29 COVID-19 fatalities, raising the death toll to 2,868, though hospitalization rates continued a downward trend.

Of the fatalities reported Thursday, two were assisted living facility residents. That raises the death toll to 310 assisted living facility residents with, 813 skilled nursing facility residents also succumbing to coronavirus.

Thursday’s report from the Orange County Health Care Agency boosted December’s coronavirus death toll to 746 with two additional fatalities happening on Dec. 7 and 8. That’s a marked contrast to November, when the virus killed 164 in the county.

So far in January, 424 people have died of coronavirus-related causes in the county. The last confirmed fatality happened Jan. 17. The death reports come from a variety of sources and are delayed, so the numbers will keep rising through next month.

Andrew Noymer, a UC Irvine professor of population health and disease prevention, said that at the rate of the past week, it would take 22 days for the county’s death toll to reach 4,000.

Hospitalization rates, however, continued a downward trend.

The number of patients hospitalized due to the virus declined from 1,639 Wednesday to 1,592 Thursday with the number of patients in intensive care units declining from 448 to 439.

The county’s state-adjusted ICU bed availability remains at zero, and the unadjusted figure ticked down from 10.1% Wednesday to 8.5% Thursday. The state created the adjusted metric to reflect the difference in beds available for COVID-19 patients and non-coronavirus patients. The county has 41% of its ventilators available.

The Southern California region remains at zero ICU availability.

The county logged 1,276 new coronavirus cases on Thursday, upping the cumulative total to 228,297.

The county’s Health Equity Quartile Positivity Rate, which measures the cases in highly affected, needier parts of the county, declined from 21.2% last week to 16.6% on Tuesday. The state updates the statistics weekly on Tuesdays.

The adjusted daily case rate per 100,000 dropped from 67.1 to 46.6, and the test positivity rate on a seven-day average with a seven-day lag dropped from 16.7% to 12.9%.

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 5% to 8% positivity rate with a health equity quartile at 5.3% to 8%.

This week, Orange County supervisors offered a blistering critique of the county’s Othena app and website that schedules vaccinations, but county CEO Frank Kim said Wednesday that the program has been much improved.

“Othena is working,” Kim told City News Service. “I know people are getting frustrated, but the vast majority of the technical concerns we’re hearing from the public is they’ve forgotten their passwords or they would like there to be a clear understanding when their turn will come up.”

The county has 484,170 registered with Othena, with 79,291 inoculated and 89,957 with an appointment for a shot, according to the Orange County Health Care Agency. Of those registered, one-quarter are 75 or older and 65% are 65 and older.

“We know there’s close to 500,000 residents registered and are now waiting in the queue and they’re frustrated, which is understandable,” Kim said. “There’s interest in receiving a vaccine as soon as possible, which is good.”

County officials want to provide more updates to those registered through the app.

“It will take a little bit of time and we’re asking for patience and once the vaccine allocation increases, we’ll be able to get to you sooner,” Kim said. “Please have patience and know we’re working as hard as we can to get to you.”

The OCHCA reported 19,733 tests on Thursday, for a total of 2,621,830.

With the post-holiday case surges and deaths, 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 South Coast Air Quality Management District on Monday temporarily suspended its limits on cremations in Orange County until Feb. 4. The agency limits crematoriums to control air pollution.

The outbreak in the county’s jails has continued to decline with the number of infected inmates dropping from 40 on Wednesday to 32 on Thursday. Authorities were awaiting results of 306 tests. Two inmates remain hospitalized.

Outbreaks — defined as at least two cases over the past two weeks — were reported in 26 skilled nursing facilities and 39 elderly assisted living facilities in the county as of Wednesday.

Fairview Developmental Center in Costa Mesa — which was set up to handle overflow from local hospitals — is currently treating 29 patients, 19 from Orange County, eight from Los Angeles County, and one each from Riverside and San Bernardino counties.

Meanwhile, a new program to help some Orange County residents affected by the COVID-19 pandemic to pay rent and some utility bills was announced Friday by Board of Supervisors Chairman Andrew Do.

The county is using $65.5 million from the federal government to help some needy renters hang on to their apartments and cover some bills.

“Orange County renters have had to bear an incredible burden throughout this pandemic,” Do said. “Our rental assistance will help keep our most vulnerable community members from losing their home and a sense of security in the midst of this ongoing crisis.”

Renters in cities with more than 200,000 population such as Anaheim, Santa Ana and Irvine also received money from the federal government to help with rent payments.

The county’s program is open to residents who can show they’re at risk of homelessness without assistance and have a combined income at or blow 80% of area median income. Starting Monday, residents wanting to apply for the assistance can go to era.211oc.org for more information.

The program does not cover homeowners past due on mortgage payments.

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