Orange County reached a few COVID-19 milestones Thursday -- with hospitalizations falling under 1,000 and the adjusted rate of hospital capacity rising above zero. The county also received 779 new cases, raising the cumulative to 240,999, and logged 42 additional fatalities, hiking the death toll to 3,493.
“The big thing we're waiting for is what Super Bowl gatherings did to us,” said Orange County Supervisor Doug Chaffee. “We won't know that until midway next week. Otherwise, if this good news keeps happening, we might make some move out of the purple tier (soon).”
Orange County CEO Frank Kim said, “The testing positivity rate will get there in a few week if the trends continue.” But the case rates per 100,000 are still too high, “so we're still a ways off from that,” reaching the red tier, Kim said.
The number of coronavirus patients in county hospitals decreased from 1,009 on Wednesday to 965 on Thursday, and the number of patients in intensive care decreased from 310 to 298, according to the OCHCA.
The county's state-adjusted ICU bed availability inched up from zero Wednesday to 0.6% on Thursday, and the unadjusted figure increased from 12.1% Wednesday to 13% on Thursday. The state created the adjusted metric to reflect the difference in beds available for COVID-19 patients and non-coronavirus patients.
“Obviously, my strong interest is not only that the hospital numbers come down, but that they'll have more capacity to do broader vaccinations,” Kim said. “There will come a time when vaccine scarcity will not be an issue and that infrastructure takes time to set up.”
The county has 51% of its ventilators available. The death reports are staggered because they come from a variety of sources and are not always logged immediately.
January was the deadliest month for COVID-19 in Orange County, with 932 fatalities so far. The December death toll was 853. That means about half of the county's fatalities since its first death last March 19 happened in December and January.
The deadliest days during the pandemic are Jan. 3 and Jan. 5 when 61 people died each day from coronavirus-related causes. Of the most recently logged deaths, 11 were skilled nursing facility residents and five were assisted living facility residents, raising the number of deaths in those categories to 890 and 386, respectively.
The OCHCA also reported 18,924 tests Thursday, bringing the total to 2,836,621. The adjusted daily case rate per 100,000 people dropped from 39 last Tuesday to 29.7 this week, and the test positivity rate on a seven-day average, with a seven-day lag, dropped from 10.9% last week to 9.4%.
The county's Health Equity Quartile Positivity Rate, which measures the cases in highly affected, needier parts of the county, declined from 13.9% last week to 12.4%. The numbers for the state's color-coded tier framework are updated on Tuesdays.
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 a 5% to 8% positivity rate with a health equity quartile at 5.3% to 8%. Outbreaks -- defined as two or more cases within the past two weeks -- have been reported at 11 skilled nursing facilities and 25 elderly assisted living facilities as of Wednesday.
The Fairview Developmental Center, where patients transitioning out of hospitals are taken, housed 36 patients, including 13 from Orange County, six from Los Angeles County, two from Riverside County and one from San Bernardino County as of Wednesday.
As of Thursday in Orange County's jails, nine inmates were infected and two were hospitalized as officials awaited results of 139 tests.
Orange County Health Care Agency officials got a scare Wednesday when it appeared about 6,000 doses of the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine were potentially spoiled at the Soka University vaccination site in Aliso Viejo due to a refrigeration issue -- but hours later, they got word from the company the doses were still OK to use.
The vaccines fell a little bit out of the recommended temperature range in a refrigerator, but officials are unsure whether it was due to operator error or a malfunction. One theory is that a pharmacist raised the temperature when trying to lower it, Chaffee said. But Kim said it could have been a malfunction, so a new refrigerator was bought just to be on the safe side.