Orange County reports 565 new COVID-19 cases, but hospitalizations are dropping

Orange County reported 565 new cases of COVID-19 and six more deaths Sunday, bringing the county's totals to 39,076 cases and 720 fatalities.

The number of newly confirmed cases represents a large jump over the previous two days, and might indicate that officials have caught up with a reporting backlog caused by a glitch in the state's electronic laboratory reporting system.

Only 43 cases were reported Friday, followed by 322 on Saturday.

Hospitalization rates continued to trend downward, however, and those numbers are not affected by the reporting problems. The number of people currently hospitalized with the virus was 487 as of Sunday, according to the Orange County Health Care Agency, with 163 in intensive care. Those numbers are down from 491 and 167 on Saturday, and 511 and 177 on Friday.

Orange County CEO Frank Kim said last week that officials are cautiously optimistic about overall trends. 

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"If you look at the hospitalization numbers, the ICU rates peaked sometime around July and it has been trending steadily downward," Kim said. "That's an encouraging sign. We've had a spike in hospitalization and ICU rates in the middle of July and both have been trending down since then. We think it's a positive sign and hopefully we're back down to a much more stable workable environment."

Of Sunday's six deaths, three were skilled nursing facility residents, and three were people not living in a care facility. Since the start of the pandemic, 284 skilled nursing facility residents have died of COVID-19 in Orange County and 38 assisted living facility residents have succumbed to the virus.

The rate of residents testing positive for COVID-19 in the county inched down from 8% to 7.7%, below the state's desired threshold of 7.7%. Its case rate per 100,000 residents decreased from 95.6 to 90, which is far higher than the California Department of Public Health threshold of 25 per 100,000 residents.

The change in the three-day average of hospitalized patients went from -0.7% to -6.5%, much lower than the state's threshold of 10% increase.

Available ICU beds jumped from 32% to 43%, and the percentage of available ventilators rose from 63% to 66%. The state's threshold is 20% of ICU beds available to handle a surge and 25% ventilators on hand.

The county reported that 474,144 COVID-19 tests have been conducted, including 14,665 reported Sunday. There have been 29,931 documented recoveries.

Kim noted that the age group with the highest positivity rates are young adults, who also are among the least vulnerable to deaths because fewer have underlying health conditions. And he said the numbers of deaths among nursing home residents has been steadily trending downward, "so hopefully we've reversed this trend" of fatalities.

Dr. Clayton Chau, director of the Health Care Agency and the county's interim chief health officer, said state officials have said about 300,000 tests in the state system have not yet been tabulated. He said he was "confident" the state can fix the problem.

According to Kim, the demand for COVID-19 tests has significantly trended down at the county's testing site at the Anaheim Convention Center.

"We've had a huge percentage of testing capacity and it's free and yet less people are using it than several weeks ago," he said.

County officials are discussing whether to open a second site at the fairgrounds in Costa Mesa since they can handle capacity now in Anaheim, Kim said.

He said it appears that more widespread usage of face coverings, as well as the state's closure of bars and in-restaurant dining, has played a substantial role in curbing the spread of the virus. But Orange County -- which has had 38,754 documented cases -- remains on the state's watch list for counties experiencing high rates of new cases and hospitalizations.

As local school officials prepare for classes to begin, county officials are tabulating the number of coronavirus cases by various age groups.

Since the pandemic began, there have been 370 children up to age 3 who have been infected; 471 in the 4-to-9-year-old age group; 373 from 10 to 12 years old; 348 among 13- to 14-year-olds; and 1,286 in the 15- to 18-year-old age group.

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Many elementary schools are preparing applications for waivers from the county and state that would allow for in-person classroom teaching up to the sixth-grade level. The state has mandated that schools in counties on the watch list must do distance learning until they get off the watch list.

About 80 Orange County schools, most of them charter and private schools, have expressed interest in obtaining waivers, Chau told reporters on Friday afternoon.

He said discussion has perked up among educators and state and county officials regarding holding classes outdoors.