Orange County sets new record with nearly 1,900 COVID-19 hospitalizations

IRVINE, Dec. 17, 2020 -- Photo taken on Dec. 17, 2020 shows a mobile field hospital at the medical center of UC University of California Irvine, Orange County, the United States. Southern California's Orange County rolled out mobile field hospitals a

Orange County continued to set records on Thursday for COVID-19 hospitalizations, with the number rising to 1,893, while officials also reported another 3,490 confirmed virus infections.  

The number of people hospitalized was a 39-patient jump from Wednesday. Of the 1,893 hospital patients, a pandemic-high 405 were being treated in intensive care.  

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Throughout the pandemic, a total of 138,310 cases of COVID have been confirmed in the county, while 1,782 have died.  

Thursday's number of new infections was down slightly from Wednesday when the county reported a single-day record of 4,406 new cases. The county reported 80 coronavirus-related deaths last week, up from 62 the week before and 41 and 26, respectively, in the two previous weeks.   Since Sunday, the county has reported 22 deaths.  

The county's state-adjusted ICU bed availability remained at zero, but the unadjusted figure was 7.9% as of Thursday. The state created the adjusted metric to reflect the difference in beds available for COVID-19patients and non-coronavirus patients.  

Just because a county's adjusted ICU rate may be zero, it does not mean there are no beds available, Orange County CEO Frank Kim said. The difference in the rates reflects what is historically expected from non-coronavirus emergencies, he said.  

But county officials stressed that anyone with a medical emergency should still dial 911. County officials are bracing for another surge in cases related to holiday gatherings piled on top of the Thanksgiving-fueled wave. "We're facing COVID spikes from Thanksgiving right now," OrangeCounty Supervisor Lisa Bartlett said Wednesday. "And we're very low on ICU bed capacity. Under normal COVID circumstances that may not raise a lot of red flags, but the difference now between the prior surge we had and now is we had excess surge capacity then and essentially now we have no surge capacity."  

RELATED: Stay up to date on all coronavirus-related information

That is why officials continue to admonish the community to skip any sort of mixing of households for small or large gatherings to celebrate the holidays, Bartlett said. "We're in the flu season and we have increasing COVID cases day after day," she said. "We are truly running out of ICU beds."

Hospital officials now have to discuss the possibility of rationing care if the system is overcome with patients, Bartlett said. "We never wanted to get to the point where we ration healthcare and pick winners or losers for hospital beds. We never want to be in that situation," Bartlett said.  

The Transportation Security Administration reported that security screenings at airports nationally exceeded 1 million passengers from last Friday through Sunday. On Monday, the agency reported 954,782 travelers, and on Tuesday there were 992,167, which is far less than last year but still an indication there could be a similar wave to Thanksgiving as there were similar numbers of travelers in the ramp-up to that holiday.  

The county has three mobile field hospitals operating, with 50 beds at UC Irvine Medical Center in Orange and 25 each at Fountain Valley Regional Hospital and Los Alamitos Medical Center.   The county has four more mobile field hospitals left that have 25 beds apiece, Kim said.  

At the recently reopened Fairview Developmental Center in Costa Mesa, 21 patients with milder symptoms are being treated.  County officials received doses of Moderna vaccines on Wednesday.

Larger hospital systems received doses directly on Tuesday, and the county expects Wednesday's doses to be distributed to smaller hospitals, Kim said.  

Next week, county officials will debut an app developed to help doctors and nurses track recipients of vaccines to ensure they get a booster shot and to monitor for side effects.  

Orange County Supervisor Doug Chaffee said the app will be called Othena, which is an homage to Athena, the goddess of war.   The county sill has available personal protective equipment, Kim said, adding the state "is doing a very good job with PPE. When we make a request, it arrives in a matter of days... The PPE is flowing."

The county, which has 44% of its ventilators available, has also seen a rise in interest in take-home coronavirus testing kits. Last week, 17,000 kits were requested, compared with 19,000 people showing up in person at the county's testing super sites.  

A moratorium on diverting patients from one hospital to another initiated last week was extended again on Friday. Kim said it is being monitored daily to see if it can be lifted.  

Meanwhile, the outbreak in the county's jails continued to worsen, with 968 infections, up from 908 on Tuesday. The county is awaiting the results of 675 tests.

On Friday, the county had its first coronavirus death of an inmate. The county recorded 20,130 tests on Thursday, for a total of 1,926,712. The county is testing 606.1 per 100,000 population on a seven-day average with a seven-day lag, up from 526.8 last week.  

All of the county's metrics now fall within the state's most-restrictive, purple tier of the state's four-tier coronavirus monitoring system. Orange County's adjusted daily case rate per 100,000 stood at 51.8 on Thursday, the same as Wednesday. The positivity rate held steady at 15.2%.  

The county's Health Equity Quartile Positivity Rate, which measures the cases in highly affected, needier parts of the county, rose from 18.8% last week to 22.7%.

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