Orange County Continues with Encouraging COVID-19 Statistics

SANTA ANA (CNS) - Orange County saw an uptick in its Covid-19 infections today, but it was blamed on a laboratory reporting issue and the cases occurred before this month.

Orange County continues to be on track to make it to the yellow tier if current trends hold up through Sunday, Orange County CEO Frank Kim said.

That would make the county eligible to graduate up from the orange to the least-restrictive yellow tier as of Wednesday.

The county reported 145 COVID-19 infections on Friday, the first time the county has logged an infection rate in the triple digits since April 20.

But 59 of the cases logged on Friday date back to before this month, the Orange County Health Care Agency reported.

“A significant portion of those were pre-May,” Orange County CEO Frank Kim said of the infections logged on Friday. “It was a lab issue.”

The 59 late infections won't factor into how the state calculates the county's weekly average, Kim said.

“The state would actually look at the actual specimen collection date, so we should be OK,” Kim said.

The 86 new infections would keep the county on the same pace it has been on for the past several weeks.

“Everything else seems fine,” Kim said. “This morning the numbers were status quo.”

As was the case on Thursday, the case rate was at 1.7 per 100,000 people, the overall positivity rate was at 1% and the positivity rate for the disadvantaged communities hardest hit by the pandemic was at 0.9%, Kim said.

Thursday marked the first time the positivity rate on the health equity quartile was lower than the overall positivity rate, Kim said.

The cumulative case count rose to 254,637.

This weekend, the county will begin administering the Pfizer vaccine to residents 12 to 15, Kim said. Among those receiving a vaccination in that age group on Friday were the two sons of Rep. Katie Porter, D-Irvine.

The good news accompanies an announcement from the Centers for Disease Control Thursday that vaccinated Americans can ditch their face covering in most cases.

Kim, however, said it does not apply yet in California.

“We're still bound by Cal OSHA,” Kim told City News Service. “In the CDC guidance it does say more restrictive requirements are to be followed. And in California Cal OSHA still indicates you must wear mask in places of work.”

County officials are anticipating the state will issue new guidance later this month, Kim said.

“The state can put in something that's more restrictive” than the federal government, Orange County Supervisor Lisa  Bartlett said.

Based on Gov. Gavin Newsom's comments on the topic of late the state is expected to continue to require face coverings for “large-scale events and activities,” Bartlett said.

Andrew Noymer, a UC Irvine professor of population health and disease prevention, said it was a good idea to relax the mask mandates.

“I think what the CDC announced makes sense,” Noymer said. “In a platonic, ideal world, we would all keep masking because at the margins, some vaccinated people, not everyone, can get it, et cetera, but Americans aren't going to mask continuously for 36 months. You can forget about it. It's just not going to happen. We need to give ourselves the summer off with masking because we may need to do it again in the fall. I think that's just the reality.”

It has the potential to prompt some arguments down the line, Noymer said. “It will be interesting to see how it plays out,” Noymer said. “I think there's going to be a period where people have to adjust. If a grocery store says you still have to wear a mask and the state says you don't, then there will be an adjustment period there just because, `no shoes, no shirt, no service.' “

The county on Friday logged two additional fatalities, raising the death toll overall to 5,028. One of the deaths occurred on May 3, the first fatality reported for this month, and the other was on March 13, raising that month's death toll to 191.

The death toll for January, the deadliest month in the pandemic, stands at 1,537, and in December, the next deadliest, the death toll stands at 950.

In contrast, the death toll for February is 588, and 38 for April.

Hospitalizations due to the coronavirus ticked down from 80 to 75, while the number of patients in intensive care increased from 15 to 20.

The county had 31.8% of its ICU beds and 74% of its ventilators available.

The county reported 11,159 tests Friday, increasing the cumulative total to 3,784,909. The county's weekly average for testing is 277.6 per 100,000 people.

According to data released Tuesday, the weekly average for the county's daily case rate per 100,000 people improved from 2.4 last Tuesday to 1.8 this week. The overall test positivity rate improved from 1.3% to 1%, and the county's Health Equity Quartile rate, which measures positivity in hot spots in disadvantaged communities, declined from 1.4% to 1.2%.

The state releases its weekly figures every Tuesday.

Graduating to the yellow tier allows for greater attendance for many businesses such as movie theaters and gyms. “Museums, zoos and aquariums can open up at 100%,” Bartlett said. “And for the first time bars and distilleries can open indoors.”

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