Nineteen more people have succumbed to COVID-19, hiking the death toll over over 1,000, as officials Wednesday also reported 317 more diagnoses of coronavirus, raising the cumulative to 49,142.
The county's death toll now stands at 1,007. Of the deaths reported Wednesday, seven were skilled nursing facility residents. Since the pandemic began, COVID-19 has claimed the lives of 379 skilled nursing facility residents and 67 assisted living facility residents.
Despite that grim milestone, the county's overall metrics are trending positively, with the county now meeting all of the standards to move up into the red tier.
But even with the positive trends, the earliest that Orange County's schools can reopen for personal instruction is Sept. 22. County officials had argued for credit for time spent off the state's watch list before the state changed the way it evaluated progress against curbing the spread of coronavirus, but officials were told the state did not want to establish a precedent.
The county falls within the state's new "purple tier'' of counties for COVID-19, the worst level, but is on the verge of being upgraded to the next tier -- red. Tuesday would have marked the county's 10th day off the state's monitoring list.
"Our numbers meet the criteria for moving from the purple tier to the red tier," said Orange County CEO Frank Kim. "We know our residents and businesses are doing a good job. We hope they continue to observe all of the guidance recommended from our health officer and throughout the state through this really important Labor Day weekend. If we all continue to do that, we have a very good chance of coming out of our purple tier and relaxing some of the restrictions and being able to support all of the industries allowed under the red tier.''
As for the death toll, Kim said, "We are starting to see a gradual decline in the numbers of deaths and we genuinely believe deaths are a trailing indicator. And we're hopeful with the reduction in hospitalizations and the cooperation of all businesses and industries (in social distancing) that we will continue to see lower case rates, which will lead to a lower number of deaths."
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Hospitalizations dropped from 307 on Tuesday to 295 on Wednesday, with the number of patients in intensive care declining from 93 to 89.
The rate of county residents testing positive for COVID-19 remained at 5%, which is below the state's desired threshold of 8%.
The county's new case rate per 100,000 residents over 7 days is 5.6. To move to the next tier, the county has to be between 4 and 7.
The county has 31% of intensive care unit beds available, which is better than the state's 20% threshold. And the county's hospitals have 63% of their ventilators available, well above the state standard of 25%.
The OCHCA reported that 664,745 COVID-19 tests have been conducted, including 7,605 reported on Wednesday. There have been 42,375 documented recoveries.
Schools in the county are still able to apply for kindergarten through sixth-grade waivers. Most of the waiver applications are coming from secular and other private schools, Kim said.