SANTA ANA (CNS) - On the day Orange County officially entered the orange tier of the state's re-opening system -- allowing for more easing of business restrictions -- officials opened their newest super POD vaccination site at the Orange County Fairgrounds in Costa Mesa.
“This site will add tremendously to our capacity ... to move the county safely ahead to reopen our economy,'' Board of Supervisors Chairman Andrew Do said of Wednesday's opening.
“We have been working really hard to ensure greater access for all residents in Orange County,'' Do said. “(But) access is really key in the low-equity neighborhoods ... I want everyone to know you will never be asked to give your residency status in order to get vaccinated. We are all in it together. We need to get vaccinated not just for ourselves, but for our loved ones, our neighbors and our community so we can reopen the economy and put this pandemic behind us as soon as possible.''
Supervisor Katrina Foley, who represents the district that includes the fairgrounds, said plans are in the works to offer more flexible hours at the site “because some people cannot afford to take time off from work to go to a POD from 8 to 5.''
Dr. Clayton Chau, the county's chief health officer and director of the Orange County Health Care Agency, said it is critical to vaccinate as many residents as possible to outrace the variants to the virus, which have prompted upticks in some states and countries.
He said officials are dispensing vaccines to anyone who wants one in the ZIP codes identified by the state as priorities because they are underprivileged communities hardest hit by the pandemic.
“Several countries have gone back to soft lockdowns and we know it's because they haven't been able to vaccinate quickly,'' Chau said, adding that England has not had to do that because officials there are vaccinating residents as quickly as possible.
In some countries, officials held back inoculations to make sure there was enough vaccine for booster shots, but England prioritized getting first shots done as much as possible before getting the booster shots, Chau said.
“That seems to have worked and I have made the same recommendation to the state, so we'll wait and see,'' Chau said.
He emphasized the importance of continued adherence to social distancing and face coverings, and reminded travelers that the state “strongly recommends'' quarantining for 10 days after returning from an out-of-state trip
The county has inoculated about 1.1 million residents and about 500,000 have gotten a shot and a booster, Chau said.
On Wednesday, the county reported 146 new coronavirus cases and logged four more fatalities, which occurred in January and December, raising the cumulative case count to 250,683 and the death toll to 4,744.
The death toll for March stands at 105.
The death toll for February is 544. The death toll for January, the deadliest by far during the pandemic, is at 1,462, and it is 922 for December, the next deadliest month. The December and January death tolls reflect a holiday-fueled surge.
Orange County officially qualified for the orange tier on Tuesday, when the state announced its weekly update on coronavirus data, and the eased restrictions went into effect Wednesday.
The latest weekly update from the state showed the county's test positivity rate improved from 2.1% to 1.7%, and the adjusted case rate per 100,000 people on a seven-day average with a seven-day lag improved from 3.5 last Tuesday to 2.8.
The county's Health Equity Quartile rate, which measures positivity in hotspots in disadvantaged communities, improved from 3.2% last week to 2.6%.
Retail stores now do not have to limit attendance at all, and churches, movie theaters, museums, zoos and aquariums can expand attendance from 25% to 50% of capacity.
Restaurants can expand indoor dining to 50%, wineries can offer indoor service at 25%, and bars that don't serve food can reopen outdoors for the first time.
Gyms and fitness centers can expand to 25% of capacity, and family entertainment centers can offer indoor attractions such as bowling.
Chau said it is unclear when the county might be able to make it up the yellow tier. The state mandates remaining in the orange tier for at least three weeks.
Chau predicted the state will reach its goal of 4 million inoculations of lower-income residents, which will trigger a loosening of the standards for each color of the tiered network for reopening up the economy. The state has inoculated 3.4 million in the lower-income category.
The case rates have to dip under one per 100,000 to make it to the yellow tier, but the county has qualified for the yellow tier in positivity rates for the last week, Orange County CEO Frank Kim said.
The county received an additional 44,000 doses of vaccines this week, Orange County Supervisor Lisa Bartlett said. That brings the county's total to 115,000 this week. Federal allocation to the pharmacies has also risen, Kim said.
The number of county residents hospitalized with the virus fell from 143 Tuesday to 141, with the number of COVID patients in intensive care units remaining at 26. It's not clear when ICU numbers have been this low, as the county's website dates back to late May and there is no data since then lower than 36 patients.
The OCHCA also reported 10,269 COVID-19 tests Wednesday, raising the cumulative total to 3,342,596. The county has 36.7% of its ICU bed space available, and 72% of its ventilators.
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