COVID-19 Cases Spiking in Orange County

November 8, 2020 Updated: November 9, 2020

SANTA ANA, Calif. (CNS)—The relatively high number of new COVID-19 cases reported in Orange County continues to jeopardize the county’s hopes of moving into the next tier of California’s four-tier monitoring system.

Orange County reported 512 new cases of COVID-19 and three additional deaths on Nov. 8, bringing the county’s totals to 62,255 cases and 1,509 fatalities reported.

Cases have been spiking recently, pointing to a possible “second wave” of the pandemic long feared by many. The numbers continue to jeopardize the county’s hopes of moving into the next tier of California’s four-tier COVID-19 monitoring system.

Orange County CEO Frank Kim said last week that “Our numbers still look OK,” but officials have said the daily case numbers would have to come down to about 130 for Orange County to be upgraded from the red to the orange tier, allowing more businesses to reopen and those that are already open to increase their capacity.

“While Orange County remains in the red tier, it is important we continue that trend so that we can eventually go downward to the next tier,” Orange County Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Michelle Steel said at the county’s weekly news conference on its COVID-19 efforts.

“As we get closer to the holiday season, it is important … we continue to wear a face mask when in public and practice social distancing when possible,” Steel said.

The number of hospitalizations related to the virus inched up from 199 on Nov. 7 to 201 on Nov. 8, with the number of intensive care unit patients remaining at 72, according to the Orange County Health Care Agency (OCHCA).

The change in the three-day average of hospitalized patients went from 2.2 percent to 7.4 percent. The county has 31 percent of its intensive care unit beds and 65 percent of its ventilators available.

According to OCHCA data, 1,183,584 COVID-19 tests have been conducted since the start of the pandemic, including 15,061 reported Nov. 8. There have been 54,847 documented recoveries.

The county’s positivity rate, which is reported each Tuesday but was reported Wednesday last week because of the election, rose from 3.2 percent to 3.6 percent, and the daily case rate per 100,000 population increased from 5.1 last week to 6.

The county’s Health Equity Quartile Positivity Rate, which measures a county’s response to hot spots, decreased from 6 percent to 5.7 percent. The county has to reach at least 5.2 percent in that metric to move into the orange tier from the red tier.

One of the peskiest issues county officials have been dealing with is the socializing among teens and young adults.

“It’s a major issue,” said Dr. Matthew Zahn, medical director of the county’s communicable disease control division.

“I think our biggest goals, our most consistent goals, is reaching out to these populations,” Zahn said.

Zahn said efforts are being made to reach out to students on campus to reinforce the importance of social and physical distancing and mask usage.

He said that often, however, on campus or at a workplace, there is more mindfulness of social distancing, but not so much after class or work.

“The natural human habit is to let their guard down in social settings,” Zahn said. “And it’s the social settings where so much spread happens.”

Health officials have been warning of a potential rise in cases during the holidays as residents seek to fraternize more and stay inside more often because of the changing weather.

“There seems to be an inevitability over the next couple of months,” Zahn said. “But it’s important we don’t let our guard down.”

Zahn advised residents to just celebrate the holidays in a different way than usual “because there is a risk there” of spreading the virus with family get-togethers.

He also commented on increasing youth sports activities in which parents and children are traveling out of states for competitions. He said the traveling back and forth isn’t so much a concern, but the “crowding” that sports contests encourage “is a major driver of risk.”

When asked about a swim meet in Irvine this weekend, Zahn said he wasn’t aware of it, but was concerned the organizers had not reached out to the agency for guidance.

Officials have said the daily average of new cases would have to come down to about 130 for Orange County to make the orange tier, allowing for more businesses to reopen and for some already open to increase their capacity. However, if cases rise too much, the county could slip back into the most-restrictive purple tier.

Orange County’s unadjusted rate per 100,000 is at 6.1, but the volume of testing brought it down to 6, Kim said on Nov. 4.