SANTA ANA, Calif. (CNS) — With nearly 300 more diagnoses of coronavirus reported in Orange County Thursday, there is growing concern about the county slipping down to the most restrictive, purple tier.
The county on Thursday reported six more COVID-19 fatalities, hiking the death toll to 1,520, and 295 more diagnoses of coronavirus, raising the cumulative to 63,460.
The rate of deaths has been trending down over the past few weeks. From Oct. 25 through Halloween, there were 39 deaths reported, up from 35 the week before, but lower than 69 the previous week. Last week, there were 24 fatalities, and so far this week, there have been 14 deaths.
Two of Thursday's reported fatalities were skilled nursing facility residents and one was an assisted living facility resident. About 46% of the county's deaths were residents of skilled nursing homes or assisted living facilities.
Another concern is the rising rate of hospitalizations.
The number of hospitalizations related to the virus increased from 244 Wednesday to 251 Thursday, with the number of intensive care unit patients rising from 83 to 89, according to the Orange County Health Care Agency.
"I'm not happy," Orange County CEO Frank Kim said of the hospitalization rate. "That certainly rings the bell. I'm concerned. You can't ignore that trend."
There is concern the worst is yet to come, Kim said.
"The biggest worry we have is not even in the recent rise — that's a concern — but it's about Thanksgiving and Christmas," Kim said.
"Most people nationally have been forecasting the worst of COVID is coming" after the holiday season, he added.
Officials say the daily average of new cases would have to come down to about 130 for Orange County to make it to the orange tier, allowing for more businesses to reopen and for some already open to increase their capacity. But the county has to stay under 229 new daily cases to remain in the red tier.
Kim said it is growing more apparent the county will fall back from the red tier to the most restrictive tier, purple. But there will be no changes in terms of capacity allowed in stores and other businesses right away, Kim said.
"You have to be in it for two weeks" before the restrictions are triggered, Kim said.
"The governor has done a good job of putting in that two-week requirement," he said. "It gives you a week to have that discussion [with businesses] Hopefully, it doesn't come to fruition, but if it does there will be no surprises."
Schools won't be closed, but there would be no new schools opened unless they were able to acquire a variance from the county.
Among the businesses and institutions that would be closed for indoor activity would be churches, museums, zoos, aquariums, gyms, restaurants, and movie theaters.
The change in the three-day average of hospitalized patients went from 16.6% to 18.8%. The county has 30% of its intensive care unit beds and 64% of its ventilators available.
According to OCHCA data, 1,218,628 COVID-19 tests have been conducted since the start of the pandemic, including 12,569 reported Thursday. There have been 55,777 documented recoveries.
The county's positivity rate, which is reported each Tuesday, actually declined from 3.6% to 3.3% this week, and the daily case rate per 100,000 population decreased from 6 to 5.6.
The county's Health Equity Quartile Positivity Rate, which measures a county's response to virus hot spots, decreased from 5.7% to 5.5%. The county has to reach at least 5.2% in that metric to move into the orange tier.
Next week, the county's case rate per 100,000 might jump to about 8, which exceeds the 4 to 7 rate in the red tier, Kim said.
Several other counties are struggling with a rise in cases in schools. But often, the outbreaks are seen in places of work, such as a local car dealer than had a recent outbreak among its mechanics, Kim said.