Hospitalization rates continued to dip, dropping to 2,026 Jan. 17—down from 2,065 on Jan. 16, 2,101 Jan. 15 and 2,169 Jan. 14, according to the Orange County Health Care Agency (HCA). The number of coronavirus patients in intensive care decreased by four to 538, a slight reduction from Jan. 10’s record of 547.
Of the 47 deaths reported Jan. 17, six were residents of skilled nursing facilities, and eight were residents of assisted living facilities. Since the start of the pandemic, the virus has killed 730 skilled nursing facility residents and 259 assisted living facility residents.
The death reports are staggered and sometimes take weeks to be logged, but December was the deadliest month for the county since the pandemic began, with 538 fatalities recorded so far from that month. That tops the summer peak, when 379 died in July and 367 in August, according to HCA statistics.
The Orange County Sheriff’s Coroner’s Department has had to provide trailers with freezers to store an average of about 100 bodies until funeral homes can catch up and take them, Orange County chief executive Frank Kim said.
The county’s state-adjusted intensive care unit (ICU) bed availability remains at zero, and the unadjusted figure decreased from 7.8 percent Jan. 17 to 5.5 percent. The state created the adjusted metric to reflect the difference in beds available for COVID-19 patients and non-coronavirus patients. The county has 36 percent of its ventilators available.
The Southern California region remains at zero percent ICU availability.
The 25,761 positive tests reported Jan. 17 raise the cumulative total to 2,430,704. There have been 136,506 documented recoveries.
Orange County’s adjusted daily case rate per 100,000—released on Tuesdays—increased to 78.8 from 67.8 last week.
The county’s Health Equity Quartile Positivity Rate, which measures the cases in highly affected, needier parts of the county, rose to 24.2 percent from 23.4 percent last week.
The county’s seven-day positivity rate is 19.5 percent. Testing demand is also slowing, while the demand for vaccinations is soaring. Officials don’t expect a significant drop in hospitalization rates until at least the end of January, Kim said.
The county’s Othena app and website, where residents can get vaccination information and make appointments to get inoculated at the Disneyland mega-site that opened Jan. 13, have been heavily used since going online Jan. 12. Downloads of the app plus website hits topped 100 million combined this week, Kim said.
On Jan. 15, some of the residents being inoculated at Disneyland were given a ticket so staff could track how long it took them to get through the process. What was taking an hour or two on Jan. 13 was down to 42 minutes on Jan. 15, Kim said.
“I was really happy we got it under an hour,” he said. “That means we can start increasing capacity.”
The county will hire about 120 temporary workers to help with staffing, Kim said. Another team is working on recruiting and screening volunteers.
Officials are also working out the bugs on the app, adding that a new version awaiting Apple’s approval is expected to address the most common concerns and issues.
“We think the majority of the issues are behind us now,” Kim said.
Dr. Clayton Chau, the county’s chief health officer and HCA director, said seniors 65 and older were moved to the front of the line for vaccines this week, immediately following the state’s modified guidelines. He noted that a survey showed 54 percent of the COVID-19 patients hospitalized in 13 Orange County hospitals are 61 and older, and 71 percent in ICU are 61 and older. Nearly 72 percent of those on a ventilator are 61 and older.
The county is expecting 35,000 more doses of vaccine next week, Chau said, and is handling distribution of about 20 percent of the doses sent from the state, with health care providers doling out the rest.
Sheriff’s officials reported a decline in the number of Orange County Jail inmates testing positive for COVID-19 from 254 on Jan. 14 to 181 on Jan. 15.
Authorities are awaiting results from 428 tests, and three inmates are hospitalized, down from five on Jan. 12.