Orange County officials were waiting Friday for word from the state whether their bid to reopen more businesses will be approved.
“When you think about it, our odds are pretty good,” said Orange County Supervisor Lisa Bartlett, who is also president of the California State Association of Counties.
Three counties, including Riverside, were up for approval Friday, and the state approved Riverside’s plan Friday afternoon.
“It’s a significant milestone for Orange County as well as the other counties that are entering the latter stages of Phase 2 because it opens up a number of business sectors, and employees can get back to work,” Bartlett said.
The state’s Phase 2 expanded plan includes retail stores, including shopping malls and swap meets, dining in at restaurants and schools with some modifications. It also includes outdoor museums and outlet malls.
Still prohibited are nail salons, tattoo parlors, gyms and fitness studios, indoor and kids’ museums, gallery spaces, zoos and libraries as well as community centers with pools, playgrounds and picnic areas, places of worship, nightclubs, concert halls, live sports, festivals, theme parks, hotels and higher education.
To enter into the expanded portion of Phase 2, officials must show stable hospitalization rates for a week of less than 5% change or no more than 20 hospitalized coronavirus patients on any single day over two weeks. They must also show less than 25 new cases per 100,000 residents over the past two weeks or less than 8% testing positive in the past week.
There are standards for testing capacity, contact tracing and hospital surge as well. Officials must also show a plan to contain outbreaks at skilled nursing facilities and among the homeless population.
In the paperwork the county submitted to the state, officials said the county has the capacity to test 9,000 people daily.
“Testing volume has expanded significantly in recent weeks as testing and (personal protective equipment) supplies have become more available and consistent,” the county said in its application for a variance.
The county has a rate of COVID-19 positive tests less than 8%, “indicating our testing volume is consistent with recommendations of international, federal and state public health bodies,” officials said.
The county intends to ramp up testing “particularly for priority populations — such as staff and residents in skilled nursing facilities — and work with health care providers to assure expanding access throughout the system.”
County officials said they have the capacity to perform contact tracing and currently have 100 staffers trained to do the work.
“There are an additional 125 trained among the Public Health Services staff and can be called upon as needed,” officials said.
The staff has the ability to handle a “fourfold increase in COVID-19 cases,” officials said.
The county has 16 testing sites and four state sites. The county’s community clinics will test any essential worker who is symptomatic, and the state sites will test those without symptoms as well.
The county contracted with Equaltox to provide a mobile testing service for workers in jails, shelters and skilled nursing facilities.
County officials also say they have a plan to help quarantine residents in lower-income communities. Orange County CEO Frank Kim has said he would like to use hotels to quarantine lower-income residents who cannot isolate in homes with large families and not enough space to quarantine.
The county has 46 homeless shelters to house about 2,900 transients, officials said.
Most of the county’s recent deaths were skilled nursing home facility residents, officials say.
County officials have had weekly calls with the skilled nursing home facilities and more frequent correspondence regarding infection control guidelines as well as best practices for prevention and mitigating coronavirus. Whenever a skilled nursing home facility records more than one resident getting sick, it is deemed an outbreak and a “strike team” is sent to the facility within a day or two.
The county has contracted with six nursing staff registries to provide temporary employees if regular staff fall ill from the virus.
In the application, county officials said that neighboring counties were seeing increasing coronavirus case rates, but that Orange County had the lowest rate among Los Angeles, Riverside, San Diego and San Bernardino counties.