Orange County Mostly Ready for Next Steps Toward Reopening, Health Officials Say

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Main News Photo

(Orange County Register)

Orange County is well on the way to meeting guidelines to prepare for the gradual reopening of businesses, schools, and public facilities once the threat of the Coronavirus begins to wane, county health officials said.

Hospital capacity is adequate, testing is being ramped up, special provisions are underway for nursing homes and an existing program to trace the contacts of people with infectious diseases is ready to go, Orange County Health Care Agency Assistant Director Lilly Simmering and County Public Health Officer Dr. Nichole Quick told county supervisors on April 28.

But some things beyond the county’s control, such as continued shortages of certain medical supplies and pending federal approval of a test for COVID-19 antibodies, could slow the county’s efforts. COVID-19 is the contagious respiratory disease caused by the Coronavirus.

In an April 28 news conference, Gov. Gavin Newsom described what’s expected in each of four stages, the last of which entails ending the statewide stay-at-home order, but he didn’t give specific dates or a timeline to each phase.

Here is where the county stands on preparations for Phase 2 on the road to reopening:

  • Hospital intensive care units have enough capacity now – about 816 beds – to handle a moderate surge in patients, and should have sufficient capacity by later this week to deal with a bigger spike.
  • Officials are looking to add about 500 ventilators to the 1,232 now in hospitals and a county stockpile.
  • County health officials believe capacity to test 4,000 people a day for the Coronavirus will be enough to find and suppress infections and tamp down outbreaks. That much testing could be accommodated by the county’s network of seven test sites, another seven hospitals that perform testing, and two proposed test centers that would be funded and run by the state (one each in Santa Ana and San Juan Capistrano).
  • Continuing shortages of testing supplies (swabs and extraction kits) and protective equipment such as masks and goggles for people performing the tests could prevent the county from performing the desired number of tests.
  • The county plans to create a strike team that could address outbreaks in skilled nursing facilities, and about a dozen such facilities will be included in a pilot program to give staff intensive training on preventing infection.
  • The health agency’s contact tracing program has about 75 employees and could quickly be increased to 100 to handle more cases so that people who have contact with an infected person could be notified, tested and quarantined if necessary.

Orange County is showing some favorable signs, Simmering noted that the time it takes for the number of Coronavirus cases to double has grown by nearly nine days since mid-March, and the case fatality rate – or percentage of people confirmed to have COVID-19 who later die from it – is low compared with state and federal statistics.

As of Tuesday, Orange County’s case fatality rate was 1.9%, or 42 deaths out of 2,151 total cases. By comparison, the statewide rate was 4% and nationally it was 5.6%.

“All those measures that we have put in place, the fact that we have acted diligently, the board took the measures quickly to put a lot of things in place, are working,” Simmering said. “Perhaps we have room to figure out how to relax some of those things.”

Category: COVID-19