Orange County COVID-19 Death Toll Continues Steep Climb

Orange County COVID-19 Death Toll Continues Steep Climb
A LifeLine Ambulance arrives at the CHA Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center (CHA HPMC) in Los Angeles on Jan. 5, 2021. (Damian Dovarganes/AP Photo)
City News Service

SANTA ANA—Orange County Jan. 29 logged 107 more COVID-19 fatalities, a record number in a single batch of death reports, which raised the cumulative to 2,975 for the pandemic.

The death reports are staggered because they come from a variety of sources and are not always logged immediately, but the batch of reports logged Jan. 29 pushed the death toll for the month of December to 801, far and away the county’s deadliest month. So far, the death toll for January is at 475.

The deadliest day of the pandemic for the county is Jan. 3, when 53 people succumbed to coronavirus. The runner-up was Christmas Day, when 51 people died of COVID-19-related conditions.

Of the fatalities reported, 15 were skilled nursing facility residents, pushing the cumulative up to 827, and 11 were assisted living facility residents, raising that total to 321.

The post-holidays death tolls offer a marked contrast to November, when the virus killed 164 in the county.

Andrew Noymer, a University of California–Irvine professor of population health and disease prevention, said this week that at the rate of the past week, it would take 22 days for the county’s death toll to reach 4,000.

Hospitalization rates, however, continued a downward trend.

The number of patients hospitalized due to the virus declined from 1,592 Jan. 28 to 1,521 Jan. 29 with the number of patients in intensive care units declining from 439 to 426.

The county’s state-adjusted ICU bed availability remained at zero. The county has 43 percent of its ventilators available.

The county logged 1,460 new coronavirus cases on Friday, upping the cumulative total to 229,757.

The county’s Health Equity Quartile Positivity Rate, which measures the cases in highly affected, needier parts of the county, declined from 21.2 percent last week to 16.6 percent on Jan. 26.

To move to the less-restrictive red tier from the top, purple, tier in the state’s coronavirus regulatory system, the county has to improve to four to seven new daily cases per 100,000 and 5 percent to 8 percent positivity rate with a health equity quartile at 5.3 percent to 8 percent.

Orange County Superior Court Judge Peter Wilson on Friday gave sheriff’s officials another two weeks to reduce the jail population enough to provide physical distancing for inmates in congregant housing.

If sheriff’s officials cannot provide satisfactory physical distancing, then a special master may be appointed by the judge to determine which inmates can be released on some level or another, including home confinement or on GPS monitoring.

“He gave us the opportunity to work it out one more time,” attorney Kevin Dunn said of the county counsel’s office.

Previously, Wilson had indicated he wanted to halve the jail population from the level it was at in March. But on Jan. 28, Wilson said he would not peg the percentage of release of inmates to any certain amount anymore, Dunn said

“It appears there’s some recognition there needs to be flexibility,” Dunn said. “Part of that is you have populations now being vaccinated and some who have been exposed, so there are different dynamics.”

Outbreaks—defined as at least two cases over the past two weeks—were reported in 26 skilled nursing facilities and 37 elderly assisted living facilities in the county as of Jan. 29.

Meanwhile, a new program to help some Orange County residents affected by the COVID-19 pandemic to pay rent and some utility bills was announced Jan. 29 by Board of Supervisors Chairman Andrew Do.

The county is using $65.5 million from the federal government to help some needy renters hang on to their apartments and cover some bills.

“Orange County renters have had to bear an incredible burden throughout this pandemic,” Do said. “Our rental assistance will help keep our most vulnerable community members from losing their home and a sense of security in the midst of this ongoing crisis.'’

Renters in cities with more than 200,000 population such as Anaheim, Santa Ana and Irvine also received money from the federal government to help with rent payments.

The county’s program is open to residents who can show they’re at risk of homelessness without assistance and have a combined income at or below 80 percent of area median income. Starting Monday, residents wanting to apply for the assistance can go to for more information.

The program does not cover homeowners past due on mortgage payments.

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