Orange County Moves Closer To Yellow Tier Status


SANTA ANA (CNS) - Orange County today reported just 46 more COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations continued to trend down in a pattern that could soon allow the county to move into the less restrictive yellow tier of the state's reopening plan.

"Hopefully, if everything continues like this in another two weeks,May 25 would be the first day to open officially in the yellow tier," Orange County Supervisor Lisa Bartlett said.

It could happen by May 19, Orange County CEO Frank Kim said.

The actual date the county would be able to move up to the yellow tier will depend on when state officials decide case rates met the criteria in Orange County.

The state's weekly averages are established as of Sundays, and on Mother's Day the county's case rate was 1.9 per 100,000 with an overall positivity rate of 1% and 1.2% in the underprivileged health equity neighborhoods, Kim said. As of Monday the case rate was down to 1.8, Kim said.

The county administered about 6,000 doses of vaccine on Mother's Day, Kim said.

"A lot of those are second doses" of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines, Kim said.

The county has seen that most people who received one dose of those vaccines have been returning for their booster shots, Kim said. The rate of people failing to follow-up for their second shot is about 2% to 4%, Kim said.

According to numbers released Monday by the Orange County Health Care Agency, the county's hospitalizations due to the coronavirus dropped from 84 Sunday to 80 Monday, while the number of patients in intensive care ticked down from 21 to 20.

The county had 34.8% of its ICU beds and 77% of its ventilators available.

Monday's figures brought the county's totals to 254,357 cases. There were no new fatalities logged so the death toll remained at 5,008.

Of the eight fatalities logged this past weekend, three occurred in April, increasing the death toll for last month to 38. Three of the fatalities occurred in March, increasing the death toll for that month to 187. Two of the fatalities occurred in February, increasing the death toll for that month to 584.

The death toll in January, the deadliest month of the pandemic, stands at 1,533, and in December, the next deadliest, the death toll remains at 944.

The county has been in the yellow tier for positivity rates for a few weeks, but remained in the orange tier after the weekly rankings were released last Tuesday, when Orange County's weekly average of daily new cases per 100,000 residents improved from 2.6 to 2.4.

The overall test positivity rate improved from 1.4% to 1.3%. And the county's Health Equity Quartile rate, which measures positivity in hotspots in disadvantaged communities, declined from 1.9% to 1.4%.

Graduating up from the orange to the yellow tier allows for an expansion of capacity for many businesses such as movie theaters and gyms, Bartlett said.

"Museums, zoos and aquariums can open up at 100%," Bartlett said. "And for the first time bars and distilleries can open indoors."

The hospitalizations have "dropped dramatically," Bartlett said.  "At the height of the crisis we were almost running out of ICU beds," she said. "Look at where we're at today."

Bartlett also noted that the positivity rates in some of the underserved communities in Santa Ana and Anaheim are lower than what is being recorded in some ZIP codes in Newport Beach and Laguna Beach.

Orange County supervisors are girding for another onslaught of public backlash Tuesday at their board meeting regarding a proposal to issue a digital record to vaccine recipients who request one after getting inoculated at a county-run site.

One vocal group has been pushing a conspiracy theory that the county is going to adopt a "vaccine passport" system that would favor residents who choose to get inoculated, which officials say is not true.

County officials, in fact, have put the brakes on the proposal to issue a QR code to vaccine recipients who registered through the county's Othena app for appointments to receive a vaccine, Bartlett said.

"We're going to pilot it with employees in the county as a voluntary opt-in... to help us test to the software to make sure it works," Bartlett said.

Bartlett said the QR code cannot be used to "track" anyone or reveal personal private health care information.

"The QR code is akin to an (airline) boarding pass that you can print off," Bartlett said. "Or you can keep the boarding pass like I do in my digital wallet on my smart phone. This isn't government mandated. It's an individual's choice."

Also, Bartlett said, the QR code would just verify the name of a vaccine recipient, which can be checked against a government-issued ID.

"And that's it," she said. "It's a one-time only serial number for that scan. The only thing retained from the scan is a randomized serial number."

Bartlett said the offices of supervisors continue to receive calls from residents concerned about a "vaccine passport" program that does not exist. County officials said they have gone to great pains to explain that they cannot prohibit anyone from any business or public place based on whether or not they have been vaccinated, but private businesses can do so if they wish.

The county reported 4,087 tests on Monday, for a cumulative total of 3,744,189.


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