SANTA ANA (CNS) - For the first time in months, Orange County's COVID-19 positivity rate has improved enough to qualify for the red tier in the state's guidelines to reopen more businesses -- although the county still does not meet all the metrics required to graduate from the most restrictive purple tier.
The county on Tuesday reported 658 new coronavirus infections and logged 40 more fatalities, raising the cumulative case number to 243,163 and the death toll to 3,617. Those numbers reflect two days since there was no update Monday for the Presidents Day holiday.
Hospitalizations, meanwhile, continued a downward trend, with 748 patients being treated for the virus at area medical centers, down from 790 on Sunday, with the number in intensive care dropping from 257 to 235.
The county has 15.3% of its ICU beds available, as well as 56% of its ventilators, according to the Orange County Health Care Agency.
“We haven't seen any spikes so far from the Super Bowl, so that's good news,” Orange County CEO Frank Kim told City News Service.
Of the 40 deaths reported Tuesday, two were skilled nursing facility residents and five were assisted living facility residents, raising those totals to 902 and 406, respectively.
The death reports are staggered because they come from a variety of sources and are not always logged immediately.
The death toll for January now stands at 1,040, surpassing the previous record for December, with 859 deaths logged for that month. That means that 52% of the county's death toll since the first fatality on March 19, 2020, occurred during those two months.
The death toll for February is 26 so far.
The deadliest day of the pandemic in Orange County was Jan. 5, when 63 people died. The second highest was Jan. 3, when 61 people died.
The county's adjusted daily case rate per 100,000 people dropped from 29.7 last week to 20.7 on Tuesday, and the test positivity rate on a seven-day average, with a seven-day lag, fell from 9.4% to 7.8%, which meets the criteria for the red tier.
The county's Health Equity Quartile Positivity Rate, which measures the cases in highly affected, needier parts of the county, declined from 12.4% last week to 10.7%.
The numbers for the state's color-coded tier framework are updated on Tuesdays.
To move to the less-restrictive red tier from the purple tier, the county has to improve to 4 to 7 new daily cases per 100,000 and a 5% to 8% positivity rate with a health equity quartile at 5.3% to 8%. And the county would be required to maintain the metrics for two consecutive weeks.
Orange County Board of Supervisors Chairman Andrew Do said if the trends continue, the “best-case scenario” is another three to four weeks before the county makes the red tier.
By that time in mid- to late March, the Johnson & Johnson vaccine could be available, Do said.
“At that point, we could really make headway into reopening our economy,” he said.
Kim said the county has “one foot in the red tier and another firmly planted in purple still.”
The county will open a new vaccine distribution site at Santa Ana College in Santa Ana on Wednesday. The county is aiming to dispense about 1,000 vaccines daily, and up to 1,500 ultimately, Do said.
Orange County has met the state's threshold to reopen schools for kindergarten through sixth grades, but most of the schools in the county have already been open for some sort combination of virtual and direct learning.
Anaheim Elementary School District has plans to resume in-person learning March 15. Buena Park School District is phasing in in-person instruction to start on Feb. 22.