O.C. sees ‘substantial increase’ in COVID-19 infections as cases double in past 3 weeks, surpassing 20,000 total

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A couple enjoy drinks on Main Street in Huntington Beach on July 1 as they greet a passerby who says she can’t get used to wearing a face mask.(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

A couple enjoy drinks on Main Street in Huntington Beach on July 1 as they greet a passerby who says she can’t get used to wearing a face mask.(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

Orange County officials on Thursday reported more than 1,000 new cases of COVID-19 for the second straight day amid what health officials described as a “substantial increase” in transmission of the virus. 

The county recorded 1,292 new positive tests, bringing the total number of novel coronavirus cases to 21,517, officials announced Thursday. 

The death toll hit 402 as the county reported 26 deaths over a 24-hour period. About half of the county’s deaths involved skilled nursing facilities. 

Orange County has seen a dramatic uptick in COVID-19 cases recently, reporting more than 1,000 cases for the first time during the pandemic earlier this week. Within three weeks, the number of infections has roughly doubled.

“In the past few days, we have reported more than 16% of the total cases since the beginning of this pandemic,” according to Dr. Clayton Chau, director of the O.C. Health Care Agency. Orange County’s first recorded case was on Jan. 25, he said. 

Officials have attributed the spike in part to a backlog of test results that came in from the past month or so. 

“One thing to note is these daily numbers do not indicate that the cases and deaths reported on a given day occurred, all, on that day. These numbers occur over a period of weeks and sometimes months, and are reported once test results come back,” Supervisor Michelle Steel said at a news conference Tuesday. 

She noted the lag is due to the time it takes labs to report the test results to the state.  

But the county has also seen an increase in its testing positivity rate, recording a seven-day average of 14.3%.

While the testing rate increased by 69%, the positivity rate has also gone up, from 6.6% to 14.9%, according to Chau. 

“These trends are very concerting,” he said.  

Also concerning to officials is the recent spike in hospitalizations, spurring fears that the health care system could be overrun if cases continue to increase. 

As of Thursday, there were 291 coronavirus-related hospitalizations, including 236 intensive care unit patients. 

The increase is being fueled by community transmission from gatherings, workplace gatherings and outbreaks in assisted living and memory care facilities, according to the California Department of Public Health

“If the surge goes up to beyond [hospital] capacity to mobilize resources, that causes a real constraint. A strain on the hospital systems means a strain on the ability to care for all patients, both COVID-19 and non-COVID-19 folks,” Chau said.

That in turn could cause limits on capacity and staffing resources, something detrimental to individuals seeking treatment for a variety of conditions, including heart attacks and strokes, he said.

The three day hospitalization average is at 9.6%, below the state’s threshold of a 10% increase over that period. The availability of ICU beds in the county currently stands at 36.9%, above the 20% minimum requirement set by the state, according to Steel. 

Additionally, she said 64.5% of ventilators remain available. 

To avoid a surge, officials are urging people to take precautions to help slow transmission and protect the community’s most vulnerable populations. 

Residents and those visiting the county are advised to wash their hands frequently, practice physical distancing and, in instances where they can’t stay 6 feet apart from others, to wear a face covering. 

“We all need to do our part during these uncertain times, so our community can go back to work and stay at work safely,” Chau said. 

Orange County is among some two dozen counties on California’s coronavirus watch list, and recently toggled back on reopenings due to a surge in cases and hospitalizations. 

The state ordered the closure of dine-in restaurants, wineries and tasting rooms, movie theaters, family entertainment centers, zoos and museums, and cardrooms in counties on California monitoring list for three consecutive days. 

In addition to Orange County, that measure impacted Los Angeles, Riverside, San Bernardino and Ventura counties. 

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