Orange County announced three additional coronavirus-linked deaths Tuesday as the number of people hospitalized while battling COVID-19 hit a new high.
The latest fatalities pushed the county’s total death toll to 42. However, its mortality rate associated with COVID-19 remains just under 2% — significantly lower than the state’s, which is about 4%, and neighboring Los Angeles County’s, which is roughly 4.7%.
Of the confirmed victims in Orange County, 25 were at least 65 years old. Only five were 44 or younger.
Countywide, 178 people were hospitalized as of Tuesday — a new single-day high for the county — and 74 of those patients were in intensive care.
Over the previous week, the number of people hospitalized has ranged between 148 and 162.
The Orange County Health Care Agency also announced 34 new COVID-19 cases Tuesday, bringing the region’s cumulative count to 2,151.
Tuesday’s report followed a weekend of contrasts in Orange County that saw significant crowds flocking to the region’s still-open beaches and local health officials confirm the county’s biggest two-day increase in confirmed COVID-19 cases.
Saturday alone saw 122 new cases reported, which was a daily record in the county. An additional 102 and 51 cases were confirmed Sunday and Monday, respectively.
However, those higher case counts are probably a byproduct of a significant uptick in how many people the county is testing.
Since Friday, the county has conducted 6,921 tests — including 2,267 on Sunday alone, which was easily a new high-water mark.
Overall, 27,737 people have been tested for COVID-19 countywide.
While the county has the capacity to ramp up its testing even more dramatically, a present issue is a lack of all the materials needed to administer them — namely swabs, extraction kits and personal protective equipment, according to Lilly Simmering, the county’s deputy Health Care Agency director and interim public health director.
“It’s like baking a cake,” she told the Orange County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday. “If you don’t have flour, but you have eggs and you have sugar and you have baking soda, you can’t build it. You can’t bake it.”
Overall, though, she said the county is trending in a good direction as its fatality rate remains low and sufficient capacity currently exists in the regional hospital system.
“This doesn’t mean that we should stop doing the things we’ve learned to do: social distancing, wear face coverings and be very cognizant of our at-risk population,” she said.
Officials in Orange County, like other regions of the state, have begun looking toward a future when California’s stay-at-home regulations can be relaxed and businesses can begin to reopen.
To that end, the board unanimously approved a set of business guidelines Tuesday seeking to “strike a balance between the need for continued protection from the disease and the need for the economy to function again,” Supervisor Don Wagner said.
“These guidelines are intended to state clearly the minimum that business owners and operators must do, in addition to following all applicable jurisdiction’s orders,” he said.
Employers should require customer-facing workers to wear disposable gloves or wash their hands or use hand sanitizer every 30 minutes, per the guidelines.
“Face coverings should be provided to all employees,” the guidelines state. “All employees, before starting a shift, should have their temperatures taken and not be permitted to work upon a temperature reading above 100.4 degrees.”
Patrons “should also wear appropriate face coverings,” the guidelines add.
Businesses also should “make every effort to limit touch points,” according to the guidelines, and “significantly increase [the] frequency of sanitizing workstations and equipment.”
The guidelines also include wording related to physical distancing in the workplace — “a minimum of six feet should be maintained between customer-facing employees and the general public and, to the extent practical, between employee workstations. Where six feet ... between workstations is impractical, face coverings should be worn.”
When practical, businesses also should allow telecommuting, according to the guidelines.
Regardless of what guidelines the county adopts, though, the ultimate say on when and how businesses can get back up and running is up to the state.
There could be progress on that front, though. Gov. Gavin Newsom said Tuesday that businesses seen as presenting less risk of spreading the coronavirus could open within the next few weeks.
However, he said that call will be based on data and shaped by public health considerations.
“Politics will not drive our decision-making. Protests won’t drive our decision-making. Political pressure will not drive our decision-making,” he said.