Orange County set a new record for COVID-19 vaccinations Thursday and was aiming to top it Friday, as its coronavirus statistics continued trending down.
“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. “We're shooting for 14,000 today.” 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.
The Orange County Health Care Agency reported 90 new COVID-19 cases Friday, upping the cumulative total to 250,854, as well as six more fatalities, increasing the death toll to 4,761. Some of the latest deaths logged occurred in early January.
The county's death toll for March stood at 111 as of Friday, significantly below the February number of 549. The death toll for January, the deadliest by far during the pandemic, increased to 1,467, while December's was 922. The December and January death tolls reflect a holiday-fueled surge. The monthly totals continue to be adjusted as deaths are confirmed as being COVID- related.
The county's seven-day average daily rate of new COVID-19 infections inched down slightly to 2.9 per 100,000 residents, and the testing-positivity rate remained at 1.6%. The health equity positivity rate -- a measure of the testing rate in low-income, hard-hit communities -- was 2.1%, according to Kim.
“The numbers look good -- nothing too unusual,” he said.
The county's COVID hospitalization total declined from 131 Thursday to 118, with the number of intensive care unit patients inching up from 22 to 23. The hospitalization numbers have not been this low since the Health Care Agency relaunched its website last May.
There are 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 Wednesday's 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 on April 15 to everyone aged 16 and up. Chau, who emphasized the importance of continued adherence to social distancing and face coverings, said about 1.1 million residents have received one dose of the two-dose Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, and about 500,000 have received both doses and are fully inoculated.
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. As of Thursday, the state had inoculated 3.6 million in the lower-income category.
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 last 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.
The county received an additional 44,000 doses of vaccines this week, Orange County Supervisor Lisa Bartlett said. That brings the county's total to 115,000 this week. Federal allocation to pharmacies has also risen, Kim said. The OCHCA reported 17,838 COVID-19 tests Friday, raising the cumulative total to 3,373,593. The county has 33.1% of its ICU bed space available, and 72% of its ventilators.