Do COVID-19 Deaths in Skilled Nursing Facilities Matter to Orange County Supervisors?

By John Earl
Surf City Voice

If the Memorial Day protesters and all of the un-masked believers in the “plandemic” who took over public comments at local city council meetings in the last few months haven’t convinced you that the elderly are the most despised and neglected COVID-19 population, consider what happened at the June 11* press conference held by the Orange County Board of Supervisors.

First, chairperson Michelle Steel, gave a short update for June 11 of the County’s COVID-19 stats: 260 new cases and 202 deaths to date, but didn’t mention that weekly case-number averages are still increasing (the curve has not been flattened).

Then she quickly added, “Our hearts go out to the families of those who have passed.”

Next, she bragged about the “rapidly increasing” number of COVID-19 tests given by the Orange County Healthcare Agency and private labs, even though the County’s own stats show that testing is declining overall of late.

Recent testing decline

Then Chairperson Steel under-counted hospital and ICU COVID-19 patients (county stats here, state stats here), left out the numbers of additional suspected COVID-19 patients, bragged about the 46.6 percent recovery rate out of 7,987 “confirmed” cases, and declared that “Orange County is well on its way out of this situation.”

The County has been on top of the COVID-19 pandemic from the start, she said. And even though its effect on businesses, workers, and families has been devastating, “we have continued to see very low numbers of COVID-19, especially relative to our surrounding counties.”

Steel joyfully waxed on that Dr. Clayton Chou, the County’s interim Health Officer, hired after the abrupt resignation of Dr. Nichole Quick just days before, would issue an order allowing businesses to reopen.

Chau would also announce that wearing masks, which Steel said the County “strongly recommends” (which, despite a previous order by Quick, Steel never required or even asked to be worn at supervisors meetings, where she allowed hundreds of anti-maskers to speak through a non sanitized mic) are no longer mandatory.

“Public health is the most important thing in this crisis”, she concluded, encouraging everyone to “be safe.”

But what about the elderly–the people over 65, especially those in skilled nursing facilities, who took care of the rest of us into adulthood and beyond but make up almost half of the COVID-Reaper’s victims?

Michelle Park Steel (screen shot)

No mention of them from Steel. And were it not for a question from reporter Paul Anderson at City News Service, there wouldn’t have been any mention of them at all.

“I’m wondering if you can give us an update where you’re at as far as outbreaks in the skilled nursing facilities since it appears that a good deal of your deaths are coming out those facilities at this time,” he asked.

Detailed COVID-19 death stats by city, including for skilled nursing facilities, are not published on the County’s website.

So far, the SCV is the only publication that has obtained and published some of those details.

When the SCV published the first public revelation of COVID-19 deaths in Orange County by city as of June 4, the cities of Santa Ana (pop. 330,389), Anaheim (pop. 352,911), and Huntington Beach (pop. 201,941), in that order, topped the list with 38, 33, and 21 deaths respectively out of a total of 165 for the entire County.

Dr. Clayon Chau (screen shot)

Shortly after the SCV published that report, it also obtained COVID-19 death counts for skilled nursing facilities by city. As of June 8, that count showed Santa Ana, Anaheim, and Huntington Beach having the most fatalities in that category as well.

SNF CityDeaths (Residents and Staff)
Anaheim25
Fullerton*
Huntington Beach20
Laguna Hills*
Los Alamitos9
Orange5
Santa Ana24
* Less than 5 deaths: Source: OCHA/CDCD, June 8, 2020

As of June 12, just over a week later, there were significantly larger overall death counts by the three cities and a small corresponding increase in deaths at skilled nursing facilities.

OVERALL DEATHS BY CITY AS OF JUNE 12

Aliso Viejo: *
Anaheim: 48 (+15)
Brea: *
Buena Park: *
Costa Mesa: *
Cypress: *
Fountain Valley: *
Fullerton: 9 (+1)
Garden Grove: 9 (no increase)
Huntington Beach: 30 (+9)
Irvine: * (no increase – last report was 4 deaths)
La Habra: 5 (+2)
Laguna Hills: *
Los Alamitos: 11
Mission Viejo: *
Newport Beach: *
Orange: 6
San Clemente: *
San Juan Capistrano: *
Santa Ana: 53 (+15)
Seal Beach: *
Stanton: * (no increase – last report was 4)
Tustin: 5 (+1)
Westminster: *
Yorba Linda: *
*Less than 5 deaths

Updated skilled nursing home facility deaths by city as of June 12 are:

SNF CityDeaths (Residents and Staff)
Anaheim25 (no increase)
Fullerton*
Huntington Beach25 (+5)
Laguna Hills*
Los Alamitos11 (+2)
Orange5 (no increase)
Santa Ana26 (+2)
*Less than 5

Identifying COVID-19 cases early on is crucial for containing the virus, according to Michael Carson, Division Manager for Clinical Services for the Orange County Healthcare Agency (OCHA), who provided the city and nursing facility stats.

“If an outbreak is not identified until a large number of illnesses have already occurred, containment becomes much more difficult.”

OCHA staff conduct onsite visits to any nursing facility that has reported one or more cases of COVID-19, Carson says. They ensure that facilities enact appropriate control practices, such has having the right PPE. OCHA also sends out advisories and conducts webinars.

“At this point, we have answered questions and provided guidance by phone or in-person interviews for the vast majority of skilled nursing facilities in Orange County,” he said.

“Cities may have none, one, or multiple of these facilities within their boundaries,” according to an email response provided by Public Information Manager, Jessica Good at Dr. Chau’s behest.

“Depending on the size of a city, an outbreak at the long term care facility may greatly or minimally affect the city’s case count,” she wrote.

Huntington Beach, for example, has 427 COVID-19 cases as of June 14 and a total of 30 deaths, according to Good. On Friday, June 12, the day of the press conference, 163 residents in two of the city’s skilled nursing facilities had been infected by COVID-19 and 25 had died.

“Therefore, 264 Huntington Beach cases were likely community acquired, resulting in 5 deaths”, Good explained. The dead ranged from 32 – 91-years-old. Four of the five were over 65.

Back at the press conference, in answer to reporter Anderson’s question about nursing home deaths, Chau said that soon the OCHA website will publish overall COVID-19 death counts by city as well counts for deaths at skilled nursing facilities, by city.

As reported previously by the SCV, dissemination of those statistics was withheld due to privacy concerns.

But as the Orange County COVID-19 death toll rises with no end in sight (221 as of June 14 ), the question seems to be mostly about political semantics; namely, whether COVID-19 patients die of COVID-19 or “underlying conditions”.

Chau seemed to allude to that question on Thursday when he announced the website face lift.

“Hopefully, next week you will see death rates per city and we will take out the skilled nursing facility number,” he said, “and that way it won’t muddle the picture.”*

Chau did not respond to SCV requests for clarification.

Note: For more background about the press conference and new reopening orders and guidelines by the county, read Matthew Leslie’s article in the Fullerton Observer.

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*This story was changed June 15 to correct the date given for the press conference held by Chairperson Steel.

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