SANTA ANA (CNS) — Orange County Friday continued its record-setting trend of COVID-19 hospitalizations and recorded the first death of an infected inmate in its jails.
What You Need To Know
- The county logged 2,594 new coronavirus infections, hiking the cumulative case total to 116,377, and three more fatalities, raising the death toll to 1,734
- The county's ICU bed availability increased from 7.1% Thursday to 9.2% Friday, but in the "adjusted" metric, it remained zero
- The 11-county Southern California region's percentage of available ICU beds remained at zero for the second consecutive day
- As of Friday, 615 inmates in county jails were infected with COVID-19, including 35 from new bookings
The county logged 2,594 new coronavirus infections, hiking the cumulative case total to 116,377, and three more fatalities, raising the death toll to 1,734.
Since Sunday, 54 deaths have been reported in Orange County. Last week, the county reported 62 fatalities, up from 41 and 26, respectively, in the two previous weeks.
Hospitalizations jumped from 1,519 Thursday to 1,557 Friday, including 358 intensive care unit patients, up from 343 the previous day. Both are new records - a daily occurrence dating back to last week.
The county's ICU bed availability increased from 7.1% Thursday to 9.2% Friday, but in the "adjusted" metric, it remained zero. The state created the adjusted metric to reflect the difference in beds available for COVID-19 patients and non-coronavirus patients.
The 11-county Southern California region's percentage of available ICU beds remained at zero for the second consecutive day.
The Orange County Health Care Agency this week issued an order suspending the ability of hospitals that take part in the 911 system to request a diversion of ambulances to other medical centers.
Dr. Carl Schultz, the agency's EMS medical director, said in a statement that hospital emergency rooms have become so overwhelmed due to the COVID surge that "almost all hospitals were going on diversion."
"If nothing was done, ambulances would soon run out of hospitals that could take their patients," Schultz said. "Therefore, we temporarily suspended ambulance diversion. While this will place some additional stress on hospitals, it will spread this over the entire county and help to mitigate the escalating concern of finding hospital destinations for ambulances."
Schultz added: "To the best of our knowledge, this has never happened before."
The county has rolled out mobile field hospitals to help with the overflow. UC Irvine Medical Center, Fountain Valley Hospital and Hoag Memorial Hospital Presbyterian received 50 more beds each, and St. Joseph's Hospital in Orange got 25 more beds.
About 5 a.m. Friday, murder defendant Eddie Lee Anderson, who was hospitalized Sunday for COVID-19, was pronounced dead, making him the first inmate in the county to die of the virus.
As of Friday, 615 inmates in county jails were infected with COVID-19, including 35 from new bookings.
County and municipal officials and health care experts are worried the Christmas and New Year's holidays will exacerbate an already tenuous situation that was worsened by people gathering and traveling over the Thanksgiving period despite pleas to stay home and avoid socializing with anyone outside one's household.
On Thurday, Santa Ana Mayor Vicente Sarmiento joined Santa Ana Unified School District and City Council members in a news conference to appeal to the public to avoid participating in holiday festivities and to wear face coverings in public.
"The reason why we're here is we want to speak with one voice, with one common message," Sarmiento said. "I believe in us, I believe in our community. I know we can do this together, but we need a rallying cry. This is a call to service. We can't do this alone. We need your help. We're pleading with you to join us to save our community."
Santa Ana has the most cases in the county, with 23,119 total since the pandemic began. The city has recorded 347 deaths.
"We're in the midst of the holiday season, Christmas is right around the corner, New Year's is right around the corner," Sarmiento said. "Those are traditional moments. We want to gather with family and friends. We can't do that this year. Maybe gather virtually if you can. Just try to find other ways to get togther."
America Bracho, executive director of Latino Health Access, recalled a conversation she had with a friend Thursday morning that revealed the problem with in-person gatherings.
"A friend of mine tells me he couldn't go to work last week because he got sick around Thanksgiving," Bracho said. "I asked him were you celebrating? He said, no, we attended a funeral of my aunt who died of a non- Covid condition, but we gathered around for her funeral and the people at the funeral got sick. As a result they got sick and another family member died of Covid. This time they attended a funeral virtually."
Bracho added, "I am very sad that people have to continue dying because they're gathering, thinking this isn't going to happen to me. We're seeing the result of multiple gatherings - the elections, the games, the parties, Thanksgiving. What is going to happen in Christmas and New Year's?"
Santa Ana is inviting residents to call 714-805-6517 to obtain signs and window placards that encourage residents to wear face coverings and to stay at home as much as possible and follow other COVID-19 health guidelines.
Orange County CEO Frank Kim said another thorny problem has been people going to work with cold or flu-like symptoms because they fear getting fired or losing salary. The Board of Supervisors on Tuesday extended paid sick time for COVID-19 to county employees.
Kim said he is concerned that the latest stimulus package under consideration in Washington will exclude money for states and counties.
"I'm really disappointed because I think it's a failure to understand that states and counties and cities have all been part of frontline responses," he said. "We're the ones to do the testing, and the state is asking us to assist nursing facilities when they have a Covid breakout and we're responsible for playing a primary role in vaccine distribution, which will be a huge logistical issue. There is a misunderstanding, at least what we've heard in the narrative, that the money is a bailout for mismanaged states and county governments, which is absolutely not true."
Come January, the county will have to dip into its general fund to keep up testing facilities, which will come at the expense of other public services, Kim said.
Orange County's adjusted daily case rate per 100,000 rose Tuesday from 30.3 the previous week to 42.7, with the positivity rate increasing from 10.6% to 13.2%. The county's Health Equity Quartile Positivity Rate, which measures the cases in highly affected, needier parts of the county, rose from 16.2% last week to 18.8%.
The county is testing 526.8 people per 100,000 on a seven-day average with a seven-day lag, which is an all-time high.
All of the county's metrics now fall within the state's most- restrictive, purple tier of the state's four-tier coronavirus monitoring system.
Prior to this month, the record for ICU patients in Orange County was 245 during the mid-July surge. Overall hospitalizations have been breaking records daily since Dec. 2.
The county received its first shipment of Pfizer's coronavirus vaccine Wednesday. About 25,000 doses were delivered.
Vaccines continued to arrive in Orange County on Thursday, and county officials are expecting about 32,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine next week. A Food and Drug Administration advisory committee has recommended approval, paving the way for full emergency authorization by week's end.
The county is also dealing with an uptick in outbreaks at skilled nursing and assisted living facilities. As of Friday, 33 skilled nursing facilities have had two or more confirmed cases of COVID-19 within the past two weeks, and 35 assisted living facilities had two or more cases.
County officials have been asked to provide personal protective equipment, more training or staffing to help curb the spread of COVID-19 in those facilities, where the main reason for the spread is likely from employees who contract the virus off-site, Kim said.