Twenty-six more people have succumbed to COVID-19 in Orange County, raising the death toll to 882, officials reported as they added 372 new diagnoses of coronavirus, hiking the cumulative to 45,308.
Since Sunday, the county has reported 73 COVID-19 fatalities, a week after reporting 89 deaths.
Still, other trends regarding case counts and hospitalizations are moving in the right direction, leading officials to anticipate coming off the state's watch list soon.
Orange County officials say 24 elementary schools have been approved to be reopened, including six in the Los Alamitos Unified School District.
If Orange County continues to meet state thresholds, it will come off the state's watch list today, starting the clock for all schools to reopen by Sept. 6.
The state mandates a county must be off the watch list for 15 days before all schools can reopen, Dr. Clayton Chau, the county's interim chief health officer and director of the Orange County Health Care Agency, said this week.
For parents still leery of returning students to classrooms, Chau said the county “encourages” them to continue online learning, “especially children who are at a higher risk.”
The county will provide tests for staff and students and a “full medical team” that includes pediatricians, while infectious disease experts from Children's Hospital of Orange County and UC Irvine “will be standing by to assist when needed,” Chau said.
Wednesday was the first day the county fell below the state's monitoring thresholds, Chau said.
It is possible various business sectors that are shut down for commerce indoors may be allowed to return to normal, Chau said. County officials are expecting “new guidance'' from the state next week.
The Orange County Health Care Agency Friday reported 397 patients hospitalized, down from 400 on Thursday, with 117 intensive care unit patients on Friday, down by one from the day before.
Of the deaths reported Friday, 10 were skilled nursing facility residents and one lived in an assisted living facility. Since the pandemic began, 339 of the fatalities were skilled nursing facility residents and 50 were assisted living facility residents.
Sometimes there are delays in confirming deaths, so many of this week's reported fatalities date back to beyond a week or more. Since Sunday, nine people have actually died with six fatalities on Monday.
The rate of county residents testing positive for COVID-19 decreased from 5.7% to 5.5%, below the state's desired threshold of 8%. And the change in the three-day average of hospitalized patients went from -3.3% to -2.3%, which is lower than the state's threshold.
The county's case rate per 100,000 residents dropped from 96.6 to 95.6, which is still far higher than the California Department of Public Health threshold of 25 per 100,000 residents.
But because that number is under 100 and the positivity rate is below 8%, the county is poised to be taken off the state's watch list soon under newly outlined metrics, Orange County CEO Frank Kim said Wednesday.
The county has 30% of intensive care unit beds available, which is better than the state's 20% threshold. And the county's hospitals have 58% of their ventilators available, well above the state standard of 25%.
The HCA reported that 581,360 COVID-19 tests have been conducted, including 9,429 reported Wednesday. There have been 36,830 documented recoveries.
As students are reporting back to school, Orange County officials are also keeping an eye on coronavirus cases among children. The state is allowing schools in grades up to sixth to apply for a waiver from all online learning.
As of Friday, 458 children up to 3 years old have tested positive for COVID-19; 627 4-9 years old; 486 between 10 and 12; 456 between 13 and 14; and 1,610 between 15 and 18.
County officials on Thursday announced a new public service campaign titled “Positive Vibes.” The campaign will include well-known surfers, artists and the founders of Wahoo's Fish Taco.
“The Positive Vibes campaign will bring together some of Orange County's well-known residents in spreading life-saving messages about basic COVID-19 safety in a positive, feel-good way,” said Orange County Board Chairwoman Michelle Steel.
One of the founders of Wahoo's, Ed Lee, said the restaurant company was “so excited” about joining the campaign. “The mask is not about us. It's about the safety of the public and the safety of our employees,” he said. He said the more people wear a mask, the faster the spread of the disease can halt enough so that businesses can reopen.