Orange County continues to see a decline in coronavirus hospitalizations after numbers spiked last month because of the wave of cases in June, but virus hot spots remain in Anaheim and Santa Ana.
Editor’s Note: As Orange County’s only nonprofit & nonpartisan newsroom, Voice of OC brings you the best, most comprehensive local Coronavirus news absolutely free. No ads, no paywalls. We need your help. Please, make a tax-deductible donation today to support your local news.
“Hospitalizations continue to trend downward with the most recent report being 438 COVID patients, down from 671 one month prior. Patients in the ICU (are) also trending down with 143 in ICU, down from 231 one month ago,” states Thursday’s daily situational report from the county Office of Emergency Services.
“Based on current available data, Orange County is seeing improved metrics according to state monitoring data,” the report says.
The continuing decline indicates OC could come off of the state watchlist, which limits business and school classroom reopenings. Counties are put on the watchlist for high positivity rates and increasing hospitalizations.
“I’m cautiously optimistic,” interim Health Officer Dr. Clayton Chau said at a Thursday news conference.
Despite countywide trends improving, parts of Anaheim and Santa Ana remain virus hotbeds.
“While I think we had a decent week last week, I think we all need to still be very vigilant. We have high positivity rates in certain neighborhoods,” said interim Anaheim City Manager Greg Garcia at Tuesday’s City Council meeting.
Chau said the positivity rate in Anaheim is nearly 20%, and just over 19% for Santa Ana.
“Clearly it is more than two times higher (than the 7.6% countywide rate). We know there is a need to get people tested; we know that we need to outreach into the community,” he said at Thursday’s news conference.
The hot spots in Anaheim and Santa Ana are due to overcrowded housing, combined with a lack of resources, Chau said.
Officials are looking to increase testing in the hot zones to seven days a week.
“So we’re hoping with that we can create more prevention and early intervention,” Chau said.
Last month, the county Health Care Agency partnered with the Santa Ana-based nonprofit Latino Health Access to combat the hot spots.
Latino Health Access’ 40 promotores — community health workers — live in the neighborhoods they serve and also help get people into motel rooms, paid for by the county, when someone contracts the virus and can’t isolate at home because of overcrowding.
Anaheim and Santa Ana, while making up roughly 20% of OC’s 3.2 million residents, have over 36% of all countywide cases.
The two cities also account for half the virus deaths.
Coronavirus has now killed 769 people out of 42,171 cases since the pandemic began in March, 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 in a year.
The coronavirus has 438 people hospitalized, including 143 in intensive care units.
So far, just over 518,000 tests have been conducted throughout OC.
Last week, a state data glitch caused a backlog of nearly 300,000 test results — most of them for the coronavirus — and all movement on the state’s watchlist is frozen until the numbers are fully reported out.
County Health Care Agency staff are running the numbers and deleting any duplicates, Chau said.
County Chief Executive Officer Frank Kim said Friday’s update will be a better indicator of whether OC officials can begin planning for coming off the watchlist.
“The numbers do include the backlog and based on the numbers that we see today and an analysis from our team, we do think we are below the 8% (virus positivity) threshold that has been an issue for us in the past,” Kim said.
State health officials mandated counties can’t come off the watchlist if they are above that threshold — meaning no more than 8% of tests conducted in a seven-day period can be positive.
As of Thursday, the countywide positivity rate was 7.6%.
Meanwhile, Chau is still reviewing waiver applications from OC elementary schools in their efforts to reopen classrooms in the upcoming school year.
It’s unclear if schools will be allowed to reopen. State guidelines call for an agreement between school districts, school administrators, community groups, parents, teachers, local health officers — like Chau — and state health officials before any school can bring students back in person.
“Because the state has put the monitoring list on pause, we won’t know. I’m hoping we will find out at the end of this week,” Chau said. “The Health Care Agency will post a list of waiver applications on our website … none have been approved or denied at this time.”
Here’s the latest on the virus numbers across Orange County from county data: