As COVID-19 continues to surge, Orange County struggles to track the source of infections

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With 65% of Orange County’s coronavirus cases added in the past month amid economic reopening, health officials on Thursday said contract tracing has been difficult and they’re working to expand their caseworker workforce.

The county reported 905 new infections and 22 deaths Thursday, which is significantly above its average of 632 new cases and 11 new fatalities per day over the past week.

That brings the county’s total to 32,648 confirmed cases, 543 of which have resulted in a fatality.

O.C. now has the third-highest number of cases among California counties. Orange County still lags far behind Los Angeles — where more than 166,800 cases have been confirmed — but only a few hundred behind Riverside, with 32,813 infections.

The virus has been spreading faster in O.C. than before. Nearly 10,000 cases were added in the past two weeks alone — about 30% of the county’s total.

Officials have been unable to determine any source for the high volume of new infections, Dr. Clayton Chau, director of the O.C. Health Care Agency, said in a briefing Thursday.

“Now that people have been integrating back into the community, and a person could have multiple activities that could put them at risk, it’s quite difficult,” he said. “Even the person themselves would not know — ‘Well I was at the bar, I was at the beach; I was here, I was there.’ ”

The county has seen a trend in cases spiking after businesses were allowed to reopen and following holiday weekends, Chau said.  

“Everywhere you go you’re at risk,” he said.

The county will contract an outside firm to provide additional contact tracers. A Maryland-based firm called Trace will send 33 staff members to Orange County as early as next week, Chau said.

Meanwhile, the new drive-thru testing location at the Anaheim Convention Center had the capacity to test 500 people a day as of Sunday, Chau said.

When the site first opened July 15, official said they hoped to test 600 to 800 people a day there, before ramping up its capacity to 1,200 people daily within two weeks.

Chau said testing in the county is experiencing high demand, and people are having to wait for appointments.

“The appointment was booked solid all five days [last week], and our no-show rate was only 4%, which is impressive,” he said.

Those interested in booking an appointment can find more information at occovid19.ochealthinfo.com/supersite.

O.C. residents with questions about the status of reopenings and current health guidelines can contact the county’s COVID-19 hotline at 714-834-2000.

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