Orange County Just Misses Red Tier for Reopening Economy


SANTA ANA (CNS) - Orange County is close to moving up to the less-restrictive red tier of the state's coronavirus reopening system, but is not quite there yet and must maintain its current rates through Sunday to have a chance.

The county must then hold those rates for another two weeks to qualify for a less-restrictive tier that will allow for the reopening of more businesses.

The numbers governing those tiers are updated every Tuesday, with purple being the most restrictive, red the next one up and then orange and the least-restrictive yellow. But those reports reflect numbers through Sunday, and as of Sunday, Orange County did not meet the criteria for the red tier.

The state had not updated its numbers as of noon Tuesday, but OC's overall testing positivity rate was at 3.8% and the health-equity positivity rate, which measures hot spots in disadvantaged neighborhoods, was at 4.9%, which would put both in the orange tier, said Orange County CEO Frank Kim. The case rate per 100,000 residents, however, was at 7.6, which just qualifies it for the red tier.

The state has had an exception, however, that allows a county to move up to the next tier if two metrics are in an advanced tier and one is lagging behind. For instance, if the case rate per 100,000 remained in the purple tier, but the positivity rates were orange, the county could theoretically move up to the red tier if it can maintain those levels for two consecutive weeks, Kim said.

“You've got to make it and then hold it for two weeks and one day and then you can reopen,'' Kim said.

There's no guarantee of that, though, Kim said.

“The case rate plateaued,'' Kim said. “It was flat the last two days... I thought we'd be closer to the red tier, but we're not. We didn't make any progress over the last day, but I still think we'll make it by next Sunday, but I can't assure anyone of that.''

As of Sunday, the state's case rate per 100,000 residents was 8.2, the testing positivity rate was at 4.1% and the health equity quartile positivity rate was 5.3%.

“It was a rainbow,'' Kim told City News Service. “For the case rate we were purple, but testing positivity was orange and for the health equity we were red.''

To get to the red tier, the county has to have a case rate per 100,000 population of 4 to 7, a positivity rate of 5% to 8% and a Health Equity Quartile rate of 5.3% to 8%.

The red tier allows for many more businesses and organizations to reopen. For instance, retail stores could allow for half capacity instead of 25%, and museums, zoos and aquariums could reopen for indoor activities at 25% capacity, as could movie theaters, gyms and restaurants.

Public health professionals are “worried there could be a second surge'' if residents drop their guard as news flows in about vaccines, including the newly authorized Johnson & Johnson vaccine, Kim said.

“They're concerned people will stop listening to the health professionals and we'll potentially have another surge and every time we have a surge it takes at least two months to turn it around properly. It's painful.''

Orange County officials have not yet received word on when Johnson & Johnson vaccines will arrive here.

County officials will close down the Disneyland mass vaccine distribution site for a few days starting Thursday, so the tents there can be reconfigured to allow for drive-through access for the disabled, Kim said.

“You need heavy equipment to move those things,'' and the work will take a few days, Kim said.

The Santa Ana College vaccine site will reopen Wednesday, more than a week after it was shut down due to a shortfall in vaccine supply stemming from weather-related delays in deliveries from back east.

The county's test positivity rate -- which is reported weekly on Tuesdays -- improved to 5.4% last week from 7.8% the previous week, and the adjusted case rate per 100,000 on a seven-day average with a seven-day lag improved from 20.7 to 11.9.

Knott's Berry Farm announced a virtual “National Hiring Day'' Monday scheduled for March 13 in anticipation of its plan to prepare for reopening. The Buena Park theme park is looking to hire about 1,700 people for a variety of jobs, including food and beverage, cooks, ride operators, lifeguards and janitorial.

Photo: Getty Images

Copyright 2021 City News Service, Inc.

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