SANTA ANA (CNS) - Orange County has reported nine more deaths from COVID-19 and 194 new cases, while more businesses and institutions made plans to reopen now that the county has been upgraded from the purple to red tier of the state's coronavirus monitoring system.
The county's overall coronavirus totals are 50,190 cases and 1,065 fatalities, according to the Orange County Health Care Agency.
Hospitalizations in the county dropped from 242 Tuesday to 234, while the number of intensive care unit patients dropped from 70 to 62. The rate of county residents testing positive for COVID-19 was at 4.2% on a 7-day average. To get to the orange tier the county must be between 2% and 4.9%.
The daily case count per 100,000 people stands at 5.2. To get to the next level, the county must be at 2% to 4.9%.
The OCHCA reported that 710,708 COVID-19 tests have been conducted, including 6,853 reported Wednesday. There have been 44,220 documented recoveries.
Of the deaths reported Wednesday, five were skilled nursing facility residents. Since the pandemic began, 399 of the fatalities were skilled nursing facility residents and 74 lived in assisted living facilities.
Dr. Clayton Chau, the county's chief health officer and director of the OCHCA, issued a new health order Tuesday that spells out the details of how businesses can reopen.
The Santa Ana Zoo announced it had reopened Wednesday. The zoo will be open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesdays to Sundays and on Tuesdays until 4 p.m. The amusement rides will remain closed as will other “high-touch areas” of the zoo's exhibits.
Bowers Museum in Santa Ana announced it will reopen on Saturday with a continuance of its Walt Disney exhibit.
“We knew we had already met those metrics” as of Friday, Orange County Supervisor Lisa Bartlett said, adding she spent a good deal of time over the holiday weekend helping prepare businesses for reopening.
“I contacted a lot of businesses over Labor Day weekend to get them prepared to rehire staff and getting tables sanitized and (personal protective equipment) in place to pull the trigger when we open today in the red tier,” she said Tuesday.
Under the red tier of Gov. Gavin Newsom's four-tier Blueprint for a Safer Economy, the county will be able to reopen movie theaters and restaurants for indoor dining at 25% capacity, or 100 people, whichever is less, and churches for indoor worship at 25% capacity, or 100 people. Restaurants must close for indoor dining by 10 p.m.
Museums, zoos and aquariums also may reopen indoor activities at 25% capacity.
Shopping centers may expand from 25% capacity to half-capacity under the red tier.
Personal care service business such as nail salons and tattoo parlors may reopen indoors with modifications. Gyms may reopen, but at 10% capacity.
To move up to the next tier of orange, the county will have to be between 1 to 3.9 new COVID-19 cases per 100,000 residents per day, with a positivity rate between 2 and 4.9% for two consecutive weeks at least.
Bartlett said she saw a good deal of compliance with state guidelines for social distancing and face covering usage over the Labor Day weekend.
“We had a lot of people out and about over Labor Day weekend, but I did see a lot of compliance with the state public health guidelines, so that was reassuring,” Bartlett said.
Orange County CEO Frank Kim said he saw much of the same.
“I did drive by the beaches to see how they were doing and while it did look like a lot of beaches were being utilized, I did see people placing their towels and sun coverings six feet apart, so I thought residents and beach users were using good behavior,” Kim said. “I'm not expecting to see a big bump up in terms of (coronavirus) cases.”
Kim said the county's contact tracers have noticed far greater threats than outdoor gatherings such as at beaches.
“The greater risk from contact tracing we've found is really in the family gatherings,” Kim said.
Many private K-6th-grade schools that won waivers from the county and state returned to in-person instruction Tuesday. They included the Los Alamitos School District's schools as well as 27 Diocese of Orange schools. Two of the Roman Catholic schools remained in distance learning.
But even with the positive trends, the earliest Orange County's schools can reopen for personal instruction is Sept. 22. County officials had argued for credit for time spent off the state's coronavirus watch list before the state switched to the tier system, changing the way it evaluated progress against curbing the spread of coronavirus. However, county officials were told the state did not want to establish a precedent.