Orange County's COVID-19 hospitalizations and cases continued to decline, but 37 more deaths were logged Wednesday as the death toll from the holiday season surge mounts.
The county also reported 546 new cases of the coronavirus on Wednesday, bringing its totals to 234,708 cases and 3,199 deaths.
The number of coronavirus patients in hospitals in Orange County continued its downward trend, declining from 1,330 on Tuesday to 1,298, with the number of patients in intensive care dropping from 370 to 363, according to the Orange County Health Care Agency.
The county's state-adjusted ICU bed availability remains at zero, and the unadjusted figure increased from 10% Tuesday to 12.2%. The state created the adjusted metric to reflect the difference in beds available for COVID-19 patients and non-coronavirus patients.
The adjusted daily case rate per 100,000 people dropped from 46.6 last week to 39 on Tuesday, and the test positivity rate on a seven-day average, with a seven-day lag, dropped from 12.9% to 10.9%. The numbers for the state's color-coded tier framework are updated on Tuesdays.
The county's Health Equity Quartile Positivity Rate, which measures the cases in highly affected, needier parts of the county, declined from 16.6% last week to 13.9%.
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%.
"Look at the hospital numbers, that's a dramatic drop,'' Orange County CEO Frank Kim said Tuesday. "The ICU numbers are on an accelerating downward path, which is good.''
Kim said the county's positivity rate has declined nearly 50% since its peak Jan. 10.
The 546 cases reported Wednesday were down from 768 on Tuesday, which was the first time since Dec. 31 that the OCHCA reported fewer than 1,000 cases.
The OCHCA reported 14,219 COVID-19 tests on Wednesday, bringing the total to 2,716,157. There have been 188,422 documented recoveries.
Of the deaths reported Wednesday, one was an assisted living facility resident, hiking the total to 348. Coronavirus has also claimed 849 skilled nursing facility residents in the county.
Since Sunday, the county has logged 181 coronavirus-related fatalities. Last week, the county reported 393 coronavirus deaths, up from 305 the week before. The death reports are staggered because they come from a variety of sources and are not always logged immediately.
The death toll for January stands at 664. December was the deadliest month during the pandemic, with 834 people succumbing to coronavirus.
The outbreak in the county's jails continued to decline. The number of inmates infected dropped from 25 on Tuesday to 23 on Wednesday, with one inmate hospitalized. The county is awaiting the result of 217 tests.
Kim said he was encouraged by news from the county's lobbyist that the federal government will begin sending a million doses of vaccine weekly to the nation's largest pharmacy chains, starting Feb. 11.
"To me, this is big news,'' Kim said. "This kind of restores the order in how people access health care. We're holding up this gap that currently exists, but ultimately vaccinations should happen through traditional health care delivery systems.''
Kim said it makes sense to continue delegating authority to local governments for vaccinating the homeless or mentally disabled because local officials are best equipped to reach those people through clinics and shelters.
The county is responsible for distributing about 20% of vaccinations and hospital systems receive the rest of the state's allocations.
County officials expect that Johnson & Johnson will seek emergency authorization next week for its one-dose vaccine, which could be available by mid-month, Kim said.