Orange County’s coronavirus death toll now stands at 36 after health officials announced two more fatalities Thursday.
County officials didn’t disclose specifics about the latest victims, but overall, 21 of those who’ve died have been at least 65 years old. Eleven victims were 45 to 64, and the others were ages 25 to 44.
The Orange County Health Care Agency also announced 78 additional coronavirus infections Thursday — the highest single-day total since April 15 — bringing the region’s case total to 1,827.
The county’s observed mortality rate associated with COVID-19 is just under 2%. Statewide, it’s about 3.8%, according to information from The Times’ daily tracker.
A week ago, the number of confirmed coronavirus infections in Orange County stood at 1,417. The week before that, it was 1,063.
“Case counts will fluctuate day to day,” county leaders said. “It is important to look at trends over time when reviewing these data rather than drawing conclusions from any individual data points.”
Countywide, 20,816 people have been tested for COVID-19 to date — an increase of 671 since Wednesday.
Despite the fluctuation in cases, county Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Michelle Steel said “we are starting to see a stabilization” in terms of how many patients need to go to a hospital.
As of Thursday, 158 people were hospitalized — 59 of them in intensive care. The total number of people hospitalized has ranged between 128 and 162 over the last seven days, according to the county’s available data.
Steel also reemphasized Thursday that the county has decided not to shut down its beaches, even as some have expressed concerns that they could attract out-of-town visitors during the heat wave that’s expected to bake the Southland over the next few days.
“This plays a big role in mental health, which is why we encourage our residents to safely spend some time outside,” she said during a news conference. “The local beaches are an ideal place to do so, so long as our residents are properly maintaining social distancing.”
Orange County also recently got word that it received $554 million in funding though the CARES Act — the massive coronavirus economic relief measure Congress passed last month.
While the county is still evaluating how exactly that money can be spent, County Executive Officer Frank Kim said the hope is it can cover direct costs associated with the coronavirus response — such as developing a robust local testing network and buying personal protective equipment — as well as economic and business recovery efforts.
The money, he said, is an “incredibly needed resource at a time when the county, like most other counties, have been utilizing their own general funds to support this incredibly challenging, resource-intensive endeavor of working through the crisis.”
As the county charts its path forward through the pandemic, it will soon have to do so without one of its highest-ranking public health officials. David Souleles, the county’s director of public health services, has announced his retirement. His last day will be May 1.
In a statement Thursday, Kim said Souleles “did a fantastic job during his 16-year tenure with the county.”
“Obviously, it’s a challenging time for the county to lose David, but the HCA has a deep bench to tackle the issues related to COVID-19,” Kim said. “I wish David all the best in his retirement.”
Souleles is the second high-profile departure from the Orange County Health Care Agency since the coronavirus outbreak began. Richard Sanchez, the agency’s former director, departed this month to become interim chief executive of CalOptima.
During Thursday’s news conference, Kim said that his wish would have been for Souleles to stay with the county, but he wished him the best.
“I think, for the county, we always have movement of staff and I think it is just particularly highlighted because it came at a time when we’re in the middle of the COVID crisis and David was a very public figure in that response,” he said.