New UK Strain of COVID-19 Detected in Orange County

SANTA ANA—A 21-year-old San Clemente man tested positive for the more contagious U.K. strain of COVID-19, marking the first known case in Orange County, local health officials announced Feb. 8.

The man tested positive on Jan. 26 and “his symptoms have now resolved,” according to a memo sent Monday to the Board of Supervisors from Dr. Clayton Chau, director of the Orange County Health Care Agency and the county’s chief health officer.

The man, whose name was withheld, has “no history of international travel” and “is not part of a larger outbreak,” Chau wrote. “We are trying to get his close contacts tested to see if they have evidence of infection.”

The state Department of Public Health informed the Orange County Health Care Agency (HCA) over the weekend about the case, according to Chau, who said contact tracing indicates the man had recently been to Big Bear, where the strain was detected recently.

The first case of the more contagious strain was first detected in California at the end of December in San Diego.

Chau said about 150 cases have been identified in California, “the majority in San Diego.”

Orange County CEO Frank Kim said he was “more worried about the South African variant, which seems to be more virulent and it’s been reported that the AstraZenica vaccine is not as effective” in combating it.

The Brazilian strain has also been detected in the U.S., Chau said in his memo.

“All of these variants seem to spread more easily and quickly, more contagious, which may lead to more cases of COVID-19,” Chau wrote.

Kim, meanwhile, said he was also concerned about a “mini pop” of cases due to Super Bowl gatherings.

“Driving around my neighborhood, I could tell which homes were hosting Super Bowl events,” Kim said.

But the county is gathering momentum in inoculating residents.

About 100,000 residents aged 65 and older are in the Othena app queue to be inoculated, Kim said.

“That might take us another week or two to get through—that’s positive,” Kim said. “We did 20,000 over the weekend so we’re hitting our stride.”

The average time to get through the process at the Disneyland super vaccination site on Feb. 7 was about 15 minutes, Kim said.

Orange County on Feb. 8 reported 942 new cases of COVID-19 and 25 additional deaths, bringing the county’s totals to 239,206 cases and 3,383 fatalities.

With the Feb. 8 update, the number of coronavirus patients in county hospitals continued its downward trend, declining from 1,093 Feb. 7 to 1,046, and the number of patients in intensive care decreased from 335 to 331, according to the HCA.

The adjusted daily case rate per 100,000 people dropped from 46.6 to 39 last Tuesday, and the test positivity rate on a seven-day average, with a seven-day lag, dropped from 12.9 percent to 10.9 percent. The numbers for the state’s color-coded tier framework are updated on Tuesdays.

As of Feb. 8, the county’s test positivity rate was down to 9.4 percent and the case rate per 100,000 was 29.7, Kim said.

The county’s Health Equity Quartile Positivity Rate, which measures the cases in highly affected, needier parts of the county, declined from 16.6 percent to 13.9 percent last week.

To move to the less-restrictive red tier from the top purple tier in the state’s coronavirus regulatory system, the county has to improve to 4 to 7 new daily cases per 100,000 and a 5 percent to 8 percent positivity rate with a health equity quartile at 5.3 percent to 8 percent.

The county’s state-adjusted intensive care unit (ICU) bed availability remains at zero, and the unadjusted figure declined from 10.4 percent Sunday to 9.6 percent. The state created the adjusted metric to reflect the difference in beds available for COVID-19 patients and non-coronavirus patients.

The HCA also reported 9,270 tests Feb. 8, bringing the total to 2,790,743.

Of the 25 deaths reported Feb. 8, three were skilled nursing facility residents, raising the total to 862, and three were assisted living facility residents, raising that total to 374.

The death reports are staggered because they come from a variety of sources and are not always logged immediately.

Last week, the county logged 294 deaths, down from 393 the week before. December’s death toll increased by two on Feb. 8 to 851 and January’s death toll has risen to 829 so far. The deadliest day was Jan. 3 when 60 people succumbed to coronavirus.

Outbreaks—defined as two or more confirmed cases over the past two weeks—have gone down in the county’s nursing homes. As of Feb. 3, there were 19 outbreaks in skilled nursing facilities and 28 elderly assisted living facilities.

The outbreak that started in December in the county’s jails was down to 13 inmates infected as of Feb. 8 with two inmates hospitalized and officials awaiting 257 test results.

The county’s Health Equity Quartile Positivity Rate, which measures the cases in highly affected, needier parts of the county, declined from 16.6 percent last week to 13.9 percent.

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