Orange County saw two straight days of increasing coronavirus deaths, with the highest reported number of deaths Thursday at 14 people, just as county officials move to reopen more businesses for the upcoming Memorial Day weekend.
On Wednesday, there were 10 people killed by the virus.
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Most of 24 deaths in the past two days have been in nursing homes.
The virus has now killed a total of 112 people out of 4,841 confirmed cases, as of Thursday. There were also 247 people hospitalized, including 89 in intensive care units. There have been 90,130 tests done throughout the county, which is home to nearly 3.2 million people.
The virus is hitting nursing homes hard and has now killed 40 elderly residents in those facilities. And 10 of Thursday’s 14 deaths were from nursing homes, while 7 of the 10 deaths Wednesday were from nursing homes.
“Patients in these facilities are sick, elderly and frail and we must put significant effort in ensuring the health of these individuals,” Supervisor Michelle Steel said at a Thursday news conference.
County officials said they’re not worried about the state denying the reopening plans based on the case increases and deaths.
“No, I’m not concerned that the state will deny our application,” County CEO Frank Kim said. “I think the greater concern is for our overall community that if we see anything of a raising case count or death count.”
“That is particularly why we are testing both symptomatic and asymptomatic individuals in those higher risk areas” like nursing homes, Kim said. “What that really means is we’re going to visit every city jail, every county jail, juvenile hall … a city operated homeless shelter, a nonprofit operated homeless shelter, we will address any issues we see there … in fact, our goal is to do it at least once a month.”
If the county reopening plans are approved by the state, sit-down restaurants and shopping centers would be allowed to reopen. But nail salons, bars, nightclubs, movie theaters and other businesses will remain closed.
Supervisor Lisa Bartlett said the reopening plans might be approved in time for Memorial Day weekend.
“I understand that Ventura County submitted its plan on Tuesday afternoon and they received approval [Wednesday],” Bartlett said in a Wednesday phone interview.
She’s also president of the California State Association of Counties, which was instrumental in lobbying Gov. Gavin Newsom to lower the initial reopening thresholds that all large counties, like OC, didn’t meet.
“Last weekend, we were able to modify the parameters so that 53 of the 58 counties could move forward with their reopening plans to submit to the state for approval and Orange County is one of those Counties,” Bartlett said.
Some of the updated benchmarks include less than 25 virus cases per 100,000 residents in the last two weeks or less than 8 percent positivity test rate for a week.
Before Newsom modified the reopening benchmarks Monday, OC wouldn’t have been able to submit plans to reopen more businesses like sit-down restaurants and shopping centers because counties because it would’ve had to show it had no virus deaths for two weeks.
That benchmark immediately disqualified nearly every California county.
Kim said staff are working to get the reopening plans approved immediately so businesses can reopen by the weekend.
“We did submit our initial plan to the state and we have a conference call scheduled with them this afternoon … to discuss any technical questions the state may have.”
The reopenings could be peeled back if hospitalizations reach a breaking point and the County would have to look to other county hospitals for help, OC Health Officer Dr. Nichole Quick said.
“We will also look for unexplained increases in cases, unexplained increases in deaths and any other sort of trigger shows that there are community transmission or outbreaks that are beyond something we feel we have the resources to control,” Quick said.
Meanwhile, some beaches could be opened by the weekend.
Huntington Beach City Manager Oliver Chi said that the city is working to reopen its coastline by Memorial Day weekend.
“We’re working with the state and Newport to get all of our beaches reopened with social distancing requirements,” Chi said at a city council meeting on Monday night.
As of last Friday, all of their parking lots are at half capacity according to Chi.
There was also a protest in San Clemente Thursday, where eight protesters were arrested for trying to break through a chainlink fence barring the public from the beach.
Here’s the latest on the virus numbers across Orange County from county data:
Digital Editor Sonya Quick contributed to this story. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @sonyanews.