The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Orange County topped 10,000 over the weekend, a sad reminder that the new coronavirus is underway even as state and local officials relax pandemic rules and expand rates. business that can receive customers.
And while the overall overall case count is growing, new numbers from the Health Care Agency indicate that the county is backing down on some other key metrics used to measure the fight against the coronavirus.
Today, some of those numbers are returning to levels they were a month ago, when state officials let the county reopen some public areas and some businesses were able to accept customers.
Critically, the county’s so-called “positive” test rate, that is, the number of people who are infected after the coronavirus test, is higher today than it was a month ago.
For the week ending Friday, June 19, the county’s positive test rate was 5.26%, the highest level since late April. On May 22, the day before the state allowed Orange County to enter Stage 2 of the reopening plan, the positive test rate for the previous seven days was 3.54%.
The growth of those positive tests, which hint at a broader spread of the disease, came as the state allowed Orange County and most other counties to expand from Stage 2 reopening to Stage 3, which includes letting the public return to bars, gyms, and many public swimming facilities.
To remain open, the state wants counties to show a positive test rate of 8% or less. The highest positive test rate in Orange County came on April 9, at 7.75%.
The Orange County Health Care Agency said Sunday that the jump in new cases over the weekend that raised Orange County above the 10,000-case mark was due to a backlog of test results.
For UC Irvine public health professor Andrew Noymer, passing the 10,000 case mark is only psychologically significant.
“People seem to think that round numbers are important,” he said. “Each case is a bleak line.”
As of Monday there were 10,595 known cases of COVID-19 in Orange County: 269 people died. The Orange County Health Care Agency estimates that 5,075, about half of the known cases, have recovered.
Because the evidence has been limited, the number of confirmed cases is an insufficient count of the actual number of people who have or have had the disease. Public health experts have suspected that there are many more times the official number of COVID-19 cases, especially among people infected but showing no symptoms.
The fluctuating data has also made it difficult for researchers to study the coronavirus pandemic as it develops. Figures published in the Health Care Agency’s public database COVID-19 change daily as information is aggregated and adjusted.
Because of this, the scans that use the latest data quickly become obsolete.
For example, in a report to state health officials on May 21, Dr. Nichole Quick, the county health officer at the time, testified that Orange County fell just below the state requirement with a 7.95 % test positivity between May 13 and May 19. But further analysis showed that the county actually fared better than that. Between May 13 and 19, 4.41% of the tests yielded positive results, lower than Quick’s original calculation, and decreased further, to 3.54%, on May 22.
On its monitoring site, the county Health Care Agency notes: “It is important to observe trends over time by reviewing this data rather than drawing conclusions from any single data point.”
Overall, the growth of cases in Orange County has been slow compared to other parts of the country. Still, Noymer noted that the recent local trend is not good.
“There is no strict dictionary definition of a raise,” he said. “But we are growing.”
Noymer added that at this point it is difficult to blame the faster growth of new cases in recent weeks for the reopening of Stage 2 business without knowing how the rest of the pandemic will unfold.
The state Department of Public Health is monitoring counties that have seen recent increases in new coronavirus cases and hospitalizations.
Orange County is not on the state’s watch list, but other counties in Southern California, including Los Angeles, Riverside, and San Bernardino, are being monitored due to high case rates per 100,000 residents or evidence of positivity above 8%.
Like Orange County, the state approved the other three counties through Stage 2 of its reopening plan.