Orange County officials say 24 elementary schools have been approved to be reopened, including six in the Los Alamitos Unified School District.

If Orange County continues to meet state thresholds it will come off the state’s watchlist on Saturday, starting the clock for all schools to reopen by Sept. 6.

The state mandates a county must be off the watch list for 15 days before schools can reopen, Dr. Clayton Chau, the county’s interim chief health officer and director of the Orange County Health Care Agency, said Thursday.

For parents still leery of returning students to classrooms, Chau said the county “encourages” them to continue online learning, “especially children who are at a higher risk.”

The county will provide tests for staff and students and a “full medical team” that includes pediatricians, and infectious disease experts from Children’s Hospital of Orange County and UC Irvine “will be standing by to assist when needed,” Chau said.

Wednesday was the first day the county fell below the state’s monitoring thresholds, Chau said.

It is possible various business sectors that are shut down for commerce indoors may be allowed to return to normal, Chau said. County officials are expecting “new guidance” from the state next week, Chau said.

The Orange County Health Care Agency Thursday reported 23 COVID-19 fatalities and 429 newly confirmed infections, raising the death toll to 856 and the cumulative caseload to 44,936.

Hospitalizations dropped from 419 to 400, and the number of patients in intensive care units declined from 124 to 118, according to the HCA.

Of the deaths reported Thursday, 11 were skilled nursing facility residents and one lived in an assisted living facility.

Since Sunday, the HCA has reported 47 deaths. But there are sometimes delays in confirming deaths, so many of the fatalities date back to beyond a week or more. Since Sunday, five people have died of COVID-19 in Orange County.

The rate of county residents testing positive for COVID-19 decreased from 5.9% to 5.7%, below the state’s desired threshold of 8%. And the change in the three-day average of hospitalized patients went from -3.9% to -3.3%, which is lower than the state’s threshold.

The county’s case rate per 100,000 residents dropped from 98.6 to 96.6, which is still far higher than the California Department of Public Health threshold of 25 per 100,000 residents.

But because that number is under 100 and the positivity rate is below 8%, the county is poised to be taken off the state’s watch list soon under newly outlined metrics, Orange County CEO Frank Kim said Wednesday.

The county has 32% of intensive care unit beds available, which is better than the state’s 20% threshold. And the county’s hospitals have 58% of their ventilators available, well above the state standard of 25%.

The HCA reported that 571,931 COVID-19 tests have been conducted, including 6,545 reported Wednesday. There have been 36,596 documented recoveries.

As students are reporting back to school, Orange County officials are also keeping an eye on coronavirus cases among children. The state is allowing schools in grades up to sixth to apply for a waiver from all online learning.

As of Wednesday, 451 children up to 3 years old have tested positive for COVID-19; 621 4-9 years old; 477 between 10 and 12; 453 between 13 and 14; and 1,585 between 15 and 18.

County officials on Thursday also announced a new public service campaign titled “Positive Vibes.” The campaign will include well-known surfers, artists and the founders of Wahoo’s Fish Taco.

“The Positive Vibes campaign will bring together some of Orange County’s well-known residents in spreading life-saving messages about basic COVID-19 safety in a positive, feel-good way,” said Orange County Board Chairwoman Michelle Steel.

One founders of Wahoo’s, Ed Lee, said the restaurant company was “so excited” about joining the campaign because, “The mask is not about us. It’s about the safety of the public and the safety of our employees.”

Lee said the more people wear a mask, the faster the spread of the disease can halt enough so that businesses can reopen.

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