SANTA ANA, Calif. (CNS) — Orange County supervisors Tuesday voted to hire a public relations firm to help encourage acceptance of vaccines for COVID-19 as officials ramped up use of Disneyland as a "super site" for coronavirus vaccinations.
The news comes as the Orange County Health Care Agency reported 28 more COVID-19 fatalities and 3,258 new cases, raising the death toll to 2,148 and the cumulative case count to 195,685.
Of the deaths reported Tuesday, one was a skilled nursing facility resident and one lived in an assisted living facility.The death reports are staggered and sometimes take weeks to be logged, but it's clear now that December was the deadliest month for the county since the pandemic began, with 437 fatalities reported so far.
That tops the summer peak when 379 died in July and 367 in August, according to Orange County Health Care Agency statistics. The deadliest day so far since the pandemic began was December 22 when 26 died.
The number of patients hospitalized with coronavirus edged down from 2,221 Monday to 2,200 Tuesday. The number of intensive care unit patients dipped down from a record 544 on Monday to 535.
Since the pandemic began, 700 skilled nursing facility residents and 236 assisted living facility residents have died.
There were 16,401 tests reported Tuesday, raising the cumulative total to 2,300,064, according to the OCHCA.
Orange County's adjusted daily case rate per 100,000 — released on Tuesdays — increased to 78.8 from 67.8 last week. The positivity rate rose from 17.1% to 19.5%.
The county's Health Equity Quartile Positivity Rate, which measures the cases in highly affected, needier parts of the county, rose to 24.2% from 23.4% last week.
Dr. Clayton Chau, the county's chief health officer and HCA director, said officials surveyed patients in 13 hospitals and found that 54% of the hospitalized COVID-19 patients are 61 and older and 71% in ICU are 61 and older. Nearly 72% of those in ICU on a ventilator are 61 and older, he added.
"If we don't stop this it will continue to be so," Chau said of the high percentages of seniors afflicted with coronavirus.
"Seventy-five percent of those who have died in Orange County are also seniors, aged 65 or over," Chau said. "I'm sorry, but we need to do something fast in our community. This is not just about reopening our economy — that's important — but it is about taking care of our vulnerable community. Our seniors are dying and we need to do everything we can to stop it."
County officials have moved seniors 65 and older to the front of the line for vaccines, Chau said.
The Orange County Board of Supervisors at Tuesday's meeting voted 3-1 in favor of hiring the Idea Hall public relations firm to help officials convince residents, particularly in poorer neighborhoods, of the wisdom of getting vaccinated. Officials are concerned about opposition to vaccines affecting the ability to reach herd immunity.
Supervisor Don Wagner voted against the contract, arguing that he wanted to wait at least until a detailed budget could be worked up for the project. He also argued that the county's public information officers were capable of doing the job for no extra money.
Orange County Supervisor Lisa Bartlett, however, said she did not want to wait any longer and argued that county officials are already stretched thin and need extra help. Chau and Orange County CEO Frank Kim echoed that sentiment.
Bartlett also said she felt comfortable going with the Idea Hall firm because of its track record with the county working on its "Be Well" campaign.
The county also has reached a deal to have another super site for vaccines at Knott's Berry Farm, said Supervisor Doug Chaffee, who was voted in as vice chairman on Tuesday. Officials are working on setting up a vaccination super site at the Orange County Fairgrounds in Costa Mesa as well, Chaffee said.
Ultimately, the county is aiming to have five regional super sites.
"We don't have enough vaccine to open another one," Chaffee said of opening a second super site. "We can't open up too much until we have the quantity of vaccine we need."
Officials are planning a news conference Wednesday to open up the vaccine distribution site at Disneyland.
Multiple mobile sites are operating throughout the county, with officials currently working to vaccinate the elderly in skilled nursing facilities and assisted living facilities, Chaffee said.
With another shipment of vaccines on Monday the county has 40,000 doses in storage, Kim said.
County officials are also seeking volunteers to help with a range of services from traffic control to computer registrations, Chaffee said. Volunteers can register here.
Sheriff's officials reported a decline in the number of Orange County Jail inmates infected with coronavirus from 279 on Monday to 274 on Tuesday. Authorities are awaiting results from 673 tests, and five inmates are hospitalized.
The county's state-adjusted ICU bed availability remains at zero, and the unadjusted figure increased from 5.9% Monday to 6.4%. The state created the adjusted metric to reflect the difference in beds available for COVID-19 patients and non-coronavirus patients.
The Southern California region is at zero ICU availability.
The county has 34% of its ventilators available.