Orange County Continues March Toward Reopening More Businesses

SANTA ANA (CNS) - Orange County's COVID-19 case rates, hospitalizations and deaths continue to trend downward as the county moves closer to being able to relax restrictions under the state's tiered system for reopening.

The county on Monday reported 163 more coronavirus cases, raising the total to 247,914.

Hospitalizations continued to decline with 288 COVID-19 patients, down from 296 on Sunday, and 84 in intensive care, five fewer than Sunday.

The county also logged 26 more fatalities, upping the death toll to 4,252. Of the deaths logged on Monday, three were skilled nursing facility residents and two were assisted living facility residents, raising the death toll among those groups to 999 and 475.

As of Sunday, the adjusted case rate per 100,000 was 6.1 and the positivity rate was 3.2% and the positivity rate in hot-spot neighborhoods in underserved communities was 4.2%. So that would give the county a week of credit for having case rates in the red tier and positivity rates in the orange tier, Orange County CEO Frank Kim said.

If Orange County can hang on to those metrics for another week then it is on target to graduate to the red tier by March 17, Kim said.

“We hope that is not going to be changed by one these variants in the virus coming along,'' said Orange County Supervisor Doug Chaffee. “There could be a surge. It's not time to let your guard down, but at the same time you can feel good about the new numbers.''

January was the deadliest month in the pandemic with 1,340 fatalities. The death toll for December was 895, and 316 fatalities were logged in February.

The December and January death toll, which reflects the holiday surge of cases, represents 52.5% of the entire death toll during the pandemic.

There is frequently a delay in the reporting of COVID-19 fatalities as they come from a variety of sources.

The county has 33.9% of its intensive care unit beds and 68% of its ventilators available.

The county also reported 5,709 tests Monday, raising the cumulative total to 3,119,356.

The county reopened its Disneyland mega vaccination site on Monday after spending the last few days reconfiguring it as a Point of Distribution, or POD, for the disabled. Now Disneyland will inoculate the disabled and the Anaheim Convention Center will be available for indoor service.

“We've had issues with the Disney site because of bad weather, winds, rain, so that is being converted to drive-through,'' Chaffee said. “But we continue to also do the mobile PODs.''

Orange County on Friday received 16,000 doses of the new Johnson & Johnson vaccine, Kim said.

Some of the doses were provided to local educators and some of it was dispensed in the county's PODs, Kim said.

“They have had no problem selling it,'' Kim said of residents willing to take the Johnson & Johnson shots.

Kim said he wishes the county could get more advanced notice about when to expect vaccines as well as the quantity.

Andrew Noymer, a UC Irvine professor of population health and disease prevention, said there has been “too much chopping and changing of policy from the state'' regarding who gets vaccines and when.

“People getting their shots is music to my ears overall and that's happening and that makes me happy,'' Noymer said.

“But in terms of the state's strategy there's been a lot of confusion about how it works and changes in this and changes in that and they haven't always been transparent about how it's going to work on the ground.''

Noymer praised state officials for aiming to ramp up shots for Californians in underserved communities, “But there wasn't a lot of specifics how that was going to be accomplished.''

Noymer said variants of coronavirus are not much of a concern “as long as California's numbers keep dropping the way it's dropping.''

“It's tough to say the variants will sneak up on us,'' Noymer said. “When cases are dropping like a brick it's not clear this variant is doing us any harm. We just need to get as many people vaccinated as quickly as possible, which will prevent another variant.''

Orange County Supervisor Lisa Bartlett pointed out that if the state meets its goal of inoculating two million underprivileged Californians then it will make it easier for counties to get into the red tier, so the county could move up quickly to the orange tier if trends continue.

The numbers governing the state's tiered network for reopening the economy 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 that day, Orange County did not meet the criteria for the red tier.

The county's test positivity rate improved to 3.9% from 5.4% last Tuesday, and the adjusted case rate per 100,000 on a seven-day average with a seven-day lag improved from 11.9 to 7.6.

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.

Outbreaks -- defined as two or more confirmed cases within the past two weeks -- have declined significantly in the county's nursing homes, with just two skilled nursing facilities and three elderly assisted living facilities in that metric as of Wednesday.

The number of inmates infected in the jails is down to six with four from newly booked inmates. None of the inmates are hospitalized and officials are awaiting results from 255 tests.

Photo: Getty Images

Copyright 2021 City News Service, Inc.

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