By CBSLA Staff

SANTA ANA (CBSLA) — Orange County reported another 22 coronavirus-related fatalities on Friday, bumping the death toll up to 1,204.

An additional 282 cases were also reported, totaling 52,904 positive cases since the pandemic began.

Since Sunday, the county has reported 77 virus-related deaths, which have actually been spread out over the past few weeks according to the O.C. Health Care Agency.

The agency said a delay in reporting is common since the data comes from multiple sources. Last week, the OCHCA reported a total of 34 fatalities, which was down from 42 the week prior.

Hospitalizations dipped from 168 to 157 on Friday, but ICU patients jumped from 42 to 50.

Officials were hoping that trends would improve enough to boost the county into the state’s orange tier by Tuesday, when they post their new rates of positivity and cases per 100,000 people. The county has been fluctuating around the orange tier’s parameters this week, so it is not clear how it will average out on Tuesday.

“We’re cautiously optimistic for Tuesday,” said Supervisor Lisa Bartlett. “We have been trending in a good direction, but we have to see where we are…Now we’re having little blips with those spikes, but it depends on how it averages out.”

She and O.C. CEO Frank Kim said they are not sure what might be driving the spikes. The most common issue appears to be large family gatherings, Kim said.

Bartlett also noted her concern that students returning to UC Irvine might affect the county’s case numbers, just as an outbreak at San Diego State University impacted that county.

“San Diego barely held on to the red tier,” Bartlett said of the tier just above the most restrictive purple tier.

“You’re getting students from other counties, other states and other countries,” Bartlett said. “Even with a robust testing program, we saw firsthand what happened at San Diego State. I would hate to replicate that here in Orange County.”

With UCI students returning to campus for classes this week, Dr. Matthew Zahn of the county’s communicable disease control division said Thursday that the county was working closely with the university to help guard against outbreaks like the ones in San Diego and other campuses across the country.

“UC Irvine and other colleges are taking measures that are appropriate with social distancing and measures to identify people who are sick,” Zahn said.

In regards to dormitories, Zahn said, “A significant issue associated with (what happened in San Diego) was off-campus housing and transmission of the virus. We have been talking with UC Irvine and other colleges and universities not only about classroom sites and what’s appropriate but dorm facilities and off-campus housing.”

University officials are stressing to students the importance of sticking to guidelines to help curb the spread of the virus.

“We know UC Irvine is planning to do regular testing of staff and students,” Zahn said. “And on a national level, there seems to be evidence that is helpful, and that is encouraging…But we’re all learning how this works in all settings.”

“Move-In Week” began Tuesday at UCI and will continue through next Tuesday. Students are being tested and getting results within 48 to 72 hours.

The overall positivity rate for O.C. dropped from 3.9% to 3.1% this week, and the daily case county per 100,000 people decreased from 4.7 to 3.6. The county must remain in that range for one more week before it can move to the orange tier.

The orange tier would allow retail businesses and shopping malls to operate at full capacity. Churches, restaurants, movie theaters, museums, zoos, and aquariums can operate at 50% capacity. Gyms and fitness centers would get a boost to 25% capacity and be able to reopen pools. Family entertainment centers like bowling alleys and wall-climbing can open indoors to 25% capacity.

(© Copyright 2020 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. City News Service contributed to this report.)

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