Orange County’s coronavirus case counts continue to be questioned by many residents and experts, as the state clears a backlog of nearly 300,000 test results.
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“We know how critical it is planning at the local level,” said Secretary of the state Department of Health and Human Services, Dr. Mark Ghaly, at a Monday news conference.
“We were able to process all of these cases over the weekend, as well as do normal weekend work,” Ghaly said.
Orange County has the third-highest virus case count, right behind Riverside County, according to state data.
Ghaly said the results have been sent to counties, where health officials will have to attach demographic information like age, sex and race to positive results before sending the data back to the state.
“We expect in the next 24 to 48 hours to have that data back from the counties,” Gov. Gavin Newsom said at the news conference.
Dr. Sonia Angell, director of the state Department of Public Health, resigned over the weekend. Her resignation came shortly after state officials announced the data glitch and Newsom wouldn’t specify why she resigned.
Over the past few weeks, there’s been some noticeable discrepancies between state and county numbers, which clouds the picture of where Orange County sits in the pandemic.
For example, on Monday, the state reported a 4.9 positivity rate with 151 new cases per 100,000 people over the past 14 days.
But OC measures those rates differently.
The Orange County Health Care Agency reports a 7.4 positivity rate over a seven-day period and 82 positive cases out of 100,000 people. There’s a seven-day lag and a three-day lag on those numbers, respectively.
The data reporting lag by the OC Health Care Agency has spurred some residents to begin diving deeper into the numbers because of the discrepancies between state and county numbers.
Anthony Nguyen, a 27-year-old Huntington Beach resident, created his own website focused on the virus reporting numbers. It shows different graphs so residents can more easily understand the trends, like deaths by reporting date versus a chart of deaths by actual date of death.
“Really it’s just a project to try to make the information easier to see, and I decided to add some other views on the way. Pretty much whenever they release data i try to figure out what views i can add,” Nguyen said in a phone interview.
He’s working updating city trends so people can see how the virus has grown in their hometowns, instead of just an overall county picture currently given by the county Health Care Agency.
“Right now I’m actually trying to collect some data manually to provide some views of trends over time. People really want that, especially with cities, they want to see how cities have changed over time,” Nguyen said.
Nguyen, a product manager for a software company, said when the county switched reporting methods, it created a lot of confusion.
“Before they moved to their new platform they were reporting the cases and deaths by the date they were reporting. So it’s kind of difficult because people were asking what it means,” Nguyen said. “It’s always nice that they’re looking to add more information, but it’s unfortunate that we really don’t’ know how accurate this data is.”
Dr. Saahir Khan, who treats virus cases at UC Irvine Medical Center, said the case data has become unreliable and people should instead focus on hospitalization trends.
“I think the data on cases, because of this issue with reporting, is somewhat unreliable right now. The problem with deaths is they’re a lagging indicator. So they indicate what the situation was two to four weeks ago,” Khan said.
“I would say the best thing to look at is the number of patients in the ICU and the hospital. Those are decreasing. Part of that may be explained by flow of patients to other facilities, but I do think there has been a real decrease that has happened over the past few weeks,” he said.
Since March, the virus has killed 724 people out of 40,527 confirmed cases, according to the county Health Care Agency.
For context, Orange County has averaged around 20,000 deaths a year since 2016, according to state health data. According to those same statistics, the flu kills about 543 people over the course of a full year.
As of Monday, there are 468 people hospitalized because of the virus, including 152 in intensive care units.
Nearly 485,000 tests have been conducted throughout OC, which is home to roughly 3.2 million people.
Khan, who’s also an infectious disease expert, said he’s seen a decline in patients at UCI Medical Center
“I have noticed that the proportion of our patients that are in the ICU for COVID is less than it was a few weeks ago.”
He said the declines in hospitalization are thanks to state health orders closing all bars and moving restaurant dining to outdoors only.
“I think it has the most to do with shutting down indoor bars and restaurants. We’ve seen that in other parts of the country as well that bars and restaurants are one of the biggest factors for community spread.”
Here’s the latest on the virus numbers across Orange County from county data: