Orange County coronavirus cases surge to nearly 4,000, as officials attribute the uptick to nursing homes and jails

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Coronavirus cases in Orange County continue to surge with 229 new cases reported Thursday, bringing the countywide total to 3,968.

The number of positive cases in the county increased over the last two weeks, as did people becoming seriously ill and hospitalized, O.C. Health Care Agency’s new director Dr. Clayton Chau said Thursday during a news briefing. However, although testing is being ramped up, the increase in cases was not attributed to the uptick in tests conducted, he said.

“Much of this increase is driven by the volume of cases identified in nursing homes and in jails in the past three weeks,” Chau said. “The number doesn’t mean that we have a surge. It just mean that the disease continues to spread.”

Although county data shows that of the 3,968 total cases, 407 are in skilled nursing facilities and 331 are in jails, health officials were not able to provide specific numbers on how many of the 229 new cases were in such facilities.

“We have gone into our jail facility and we tested all of the staff there, whether they’re symptomatic or not,” County Executive Officer Frank Kim said. “And we are identifying enhanced testing for skilled nursing facilities.”

While no new deaths were reported and the fatality count remained at 80, hospitalizations reached 227 Thursday, according to the O.C. Health Care Agency, which reported its highest rate of hospitalizations yet on Wednesday.

The highest number of reported cases in the county were in Santa Ana with 665, Anaheim with 615 and Huntington Beach with 280, county data showed.

Expanding testing

The county has started to test asymptomatic people in higher risk categories, including frontline health workers and first responders.

Health officials have opened up four new testing sites, located in Buena Park, Orange, Santa Ana and San Juan Capistrano, Chau said Thursday, and about 7,000 people are able to get tested countywide each week. A list of the 12 testing locations and instructions on how to sign up can be found on the health agency’s website.

“While we have seen an increase in cases since testing has ramped up, the positive rate has actually declined,” Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Michelle Steel said Thursday.

She emphasized that O.C. has a lower rate of confirmed cases than neighboring counties.

Additionally, the city of Irvine plans to open a drive-through testing location, available to anyone who wants to get tested, with priority given to Irvine residents.

Reopening guidelines

Health officials were expected to unveil their proposed roadmap for reopening Thursday at a Board of Supervisors meeting.

“The O.C. reopening guidelines is intended to be a living document that remains dynamic with the evolution of the epidemic and emergence of new data,” Chau said during the new briefing.

The guideline document outlines hospital preparedness, testing and contact tracing, essential worker protections, reopening guidelines and triggers for adjusting modifications, he said.

Meanwhile, on Tuesday the Board of Supervisors voted to reopen parking lots at all county parks over the upcoming weekend, lifting a monthslong closure meant to deter visitors. Restrooms will also reopen at regional and wilderness parks in the county starting Saturday.

Parking at county beaches remain closed, although beaches themselves are open for active recreation, with the exception of Thousand Steps. Running, walking and surfing is allowed, but laying out, sunbathing and picnicking is prohibited.

And, “lower-risk”  businesses were allowed reopen for pickup Friday, after the state issued guidelines.

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