Orange County reported 248 new cases of COVID-19 and seven additional deaths April 3, along with another drop in coronavirus hospitalizations.
The case numbers represent a spike from Friday, when only 90 new cases were reported, and Thursday, when 81 cases were logged. The number of county residents hospitalized with the virus, however, dropped from 118 Friday to 109, with the number of COVID-19 patients in intensive care remaining at 23.
Saturday's numbers brought the county's totals to 251,102 cases and 4,768 deaths since the pandemic began, according to the Orange County Health Care Agency.
The county has 33.8% of its ICU beds available and 72% of its ventilators.
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The county's seven-day average daily rate of new COVID-19 infections inched downward slightly to 2.8 per 100,000 residents, and the testing-positivity rate inched up from 1.6% to 1.7%. The health equity positivity rate -- a measure of the testing rate in low-income, hard-hit communities -- was 2.6%.
The OCHCA reported 11,854 COVID-19 tests Saturday, raising the cumulative total to 3,385,447.
Orange County is coming off a new record for COVID-19 vaccinations set Thursday.
"Yesterday, we did 13,400 vaccine doses (at county-operated PODs, or "point of dispensing sites), which was a new record,'' Orange County CEO Frank Kim said Friday afternoon.
However, the county is planning to temporarily close the POD at Disneyland for a couple of days next week because there isn't enough vaccine expected to be on hand, Kim said.
Officials are reported no more outbreaks -- defined as two or more cases within the past two weeks -- at the county's nursing homes. Mobile field units, which were erected during the holiday-fueled surge, have been closed at two hospitals, with the hospital in Fountain Valley converting its tented facility to a vaccination clinic, according to a county report issued Wednesday.
Orange County officially moved into the orange tier of the state's re-opening system on Wednesday, the same day officials opened their newest large-scale vaccination POD site at the Orange County Fairgrounds in Costa Mesa.
"This site will add tremendously to our capacity ... to move the county safely ahead to reopen our economy,'' Board of Supervisors Chairman Andrew Do said at the opening.
Supervisor Katrina Foley, who represents the district that includes the fairgrounds, said plans are in the works to offer more flexible hours at the site "because some people cannot afford to take time off from work to go to a POD from 8 to 5."
Dr. Clayton Chau, the county's chief health officer and director of the Health Care Agency, said it is critical to vaccinate as many residents as possible to outpace highly infectious COVID variants, which have prompted upticks in cases some states and countries.
He said officials are dispensing vaccines to anyone who wants one in the ZIP codes identified by the state as priorities because they are underprivileged communities hardest-hit by the pandemic.
The state on Thursday expanded vaccine eligibility to everyone aged 50 and up, and will expand it again on April 15 to everyone aged 16 and up.
The county's move into the orange tier of the state's Blueprint for a Safer Economy allowed the county to ease restrictions on a variety of business sectors.
Retail stores now do not have to limit capacity at all, and churches, movie theaters, museums, zoos and aquariums can expand from 25% to 50% of capacity. Restaurants can expand indoor dining to 50%, wineries can offer indoor service at 25%, and bars that don't serve food can reopen outdoors. Gyms and fitness centers can expand to 25% of capacity, and family entertainment centers can offer indoor attractions such as bowling.
Chau said it is unclear when the county might be able to make it up the yellow tier. The state mandates remaining in the orange tier for at least three weeks, although it lifted that restriction to help the county move more quickly from red to orange.
Chau predicted the state will soon reach its goal of 4 million inoculations of lower-income residents, which will trigger a loosening of the standards for each color of the tiered network for reopening up the economy.
Under current rules, the county's new case rate must dip below 1 per 100,000 residents to make it to the yellow tier, but the county has qualified for the yellow tier in positivity rates for the past week, Kim said. Once the state reaches 4 million vaccinations in low-income communities, the benchmark for advancing to yellow will increase to 2 per 100,000 residents.