Orange County's Senior Citizens Remain Hardest Hit By Coronavirus

Ashley Ludwig

ORANGE COUNTY, CA — Orange County officials have turned their attention to protecting residents over the age of 65 amid growing coronavirus cases and hospitalizations. On Wednesday, 31 more COVID-19 fatalities were reported, and 3,847 more residents have tested positive for coronavirus even as officials opened up the county's first vaccination supersite at the Disneyland Resort in Anaheim.

Since the pandemic began, 707 skilled nursing facility residents have died of coronavirus, along with 242 assisted living facility residents. The death toll now stands at 2,179 since the pandemic hit our region in March. Of the deaths reported Wednesday, six were skilled nursing facility residents, and six were assisted living facility residents.

After a survey of Orange County's 13 hospitals, Dr. Clayton Chau, the county's chief health officer, and HCA director, said officials learned 54 percent of the hospitalized COVID-19 patients are 61 and older. Of the patients admitted into Intensive Care Units, 71 percent are 61-years-old or older. Nearly 72 percent of those in ICU are on a ventilator and are also over the age of 61.

"If we don't stop this, it will continue to be so," Chau said of the high percentages of seniors afflicted with coronavirus.

"Seventy-five percent of those who have died in Orange County are also seniors, aged 65 or over," Chau said. "I'm sorry, but we need to do something fast in our community. This is not just about reopening our economy— that's important — but it is about taking care of our vulnerable community. Our seniors are dying, and we need to do everything we can to stop it."

County officials have moved seniors 65 and older to the front of the line for vaccines, Chau said.

On Wednesday, the number of patients hospitalized with coronavirus dipped to 2,180 Wednesday. The number of intensive-care-unit patients rose from 535 Tuesday to 544 Wednesday, just short of Sunday's record of 547.

"Staffing is becoming more, and more of a critical issue," Orange County Supervisor Lisa Bartlett said of hospitals. County officials have made pleas to the state to help find more nurses and doctors to staff hospital beds.

Since Sunday, the county has reported 138 deaths. Last week, the county reported 140 deaths. There were 16,401 tests reported Tuesday, raising the cumulative total to 2,300,064, according to the OCHCA.

Orange County's adjusted daily case rate per 100,000 — released on Tuesdays—increased to 78.8 from 67.8 one week ago.

The positivity rate rose from 17.1% to 19.5%.

Outbreaks, defined as two more cases in the past two weeks, have plagued skilled nursing and elderly assisted living facilities for months. As of Wednesday, 37 skilled nursing facilities have outbreaks, and 46 assisted living facilities deal with outbreaks.

The average time to drop off patients from ambulances stands 45 minutes and 26 seconds 90 percent of the time.

Fairview Developmental Center is housing a dozen Orange County coronavirus patients and six from Los Angeles County.

The county's state-adjusted ICU bed availability remains at zero, and the unadjusted figure increased from 6.4 percent Tuesday to 6.9 percent. The state created the adjusted metric to reflect the difference in beds available for COVID-19 patients and non-coronavirus patients.

The county's Health Equity Quartile Positivity Rate, which measures the cases in highly affected, needier parts of the county, rose to 24.2% from 23.4% last week.

The Orange County Board of Supervisors at Tuesday's meeting voted 3-1 in favor of hiring the Idea Hall public-relations firm to help officials convince residents, particularly in poorer neighborhoods, of the wisdom of getting vaccinated. Officials are concerned about opposition to vaccines affecting the ability to reach herd immunity.

Supervisor Don Wagner voted against the contract, arguing that he wanted to wait until a detailed budget could be worked up for the campaign. He also argued that the county's public information officers could do the job for no extra money.

However, Orange County Supervisor Lisa Bartlett said she did not want to wait any longer and argued that county officials are already stretched thin and need extra help. Chau and Orange County CEO Frank Kim echoed that sentiment.

Bartlett also said she felt comfortable going with the Idea Hall firm because of its track record with the county working on its "Be Well" campaign.

Read: Disneyland Vaccination Site Opens, Othena Registration Struggles

The county also has reached a deal to have another super site for vaccines at Knott's Berry Farm, said Supervisor Doug Chaffee, who was voted in as vice-chairman on Tuesday. Officials are working on setting up a vaccination supersite at the Orange County Fairgrounds in Costa Mesa as well, Chaffee said.

Ultimately, the county is aiming to have five regional super sites.

"We don't have enough vaccine to open another one," Chaffee said of opening a second supersite. "We can't open up too much until we have the quantity of vaccine we need."

Officials held a news conference Wednesday to open up the vaccine distribution site at Disneyland.

Along with the Disneyland Point of Distribution center, Multiple mobile sites operate throughout the county, with officials currently working to vaccinate the elderly in skilled nursing facilities and assisted living facilities, Chaffee said.

With another shipment of vaccines on Monday, the county has 40,000 doses in storage, Kim said. The county is expecting 35,000 more doses next week, Chau said.

Chaffee said county officials are also seeking volunteers to help with a range of services from traffic control to computer registrations. Volunteers can register at volunteers.oneoc.org.

Sheriff's officials reported an uptick in the number of Orange County Jail inmates infected with coronavirus from 274 on Tuesday to 275 Wednesday. Authorities are awaiting results from 676 tests, and three inmates are hospitalized, down from five on Tuesday.

The Southern California region is at zero ICU availability.

The county has 35% of its ventilators available.

City News Service contributed to this report.

This article originally appeared on the Orange County Patch