Eleven more people have succumbed to COVID-19, raising the death toll to 1,018, but case rates and hospitalizations continue to fall, lending hope the county will soon move up to the next tier and will be able to reopen schools and more businesses, officials said Friday.

The county reported 299 new diagnoses of coronavirus, raising the cumulative to 48,945 since the pandemic began.

Of the deaths reported Thursday, five were skilled nursing facility residents and three lived in assisted living facilities, according to the Orange County health Care Agency.

Since the pandemic began, COVID-19 has claimed the lives of 384 skilled nursing facility residents and 70 assisted living facility residents.

The county now meets all of the state’s metrics to move up to the red tier, up from purple, the worst level.

But even with the positive trends, the earliest that Orange County’s schools can reopen for personal instruction is Sept. 22. County officials had argued for credit for time spent off the state’s watch list before the state changed the way it evaluated progress against curbing the spread of coronavirus, but officials were told the state did not want to establish a precedent.

“We were quite frustrated… we weren’t able to open schools Sept. 8 because we met the (state’s) criteria,” Orange County CEO Frank Kim told reporters at the county’s weekly news conference on COVID-19.

“We would have liked to have been provided credit for those days where we were meeting” the state’s criteria to get off the watch list, Kim said.

Kim did, however, praise the state’s new tiered system, because it is “easy to understand.”

Orange County Supervisor Don Wagner will hold a news conference Friday afternoon announcing a “nonpartisan reopen coalition” and criticized Gov. Gavin Newsom in a news release for ignoring “local leaders as he shifts from one COVID shutdown strategy to another without explanation.” Newport Beach Mayor Will O’Neill and Lake Forest City Councilman Dwight Robinson are also expected to speak.

Dr. Margaret Bredehoft, director of the Health Care Agency’s Public Health Services, said the county has received 130 applications for waivers from schools to reopen K-6th grade classes for personal instruction. The county has approved 119, and the state has approved 98 of those so far, Bredehoft said.

All of them are private or secular schools except for the ones in the Los Alamitos School District.

If schools are allowed to reopen from kindergarten through high school on Sept. 22 it will be left up to each school district whether to do so.

Hospitalizations dropped from 295 on Wednesday to 272 Thursday, with the number of patients in intensive care declining from 89 to 79.

The rate of county residents testing positive for COVID-19 remained at 5%, which is below the state’s desired threshold of 8%.

The county’s new case rate per 100,000 residents over 7 days is 5.6. To move to the next tier, the county has to be between 4 and 7.

The county has 30% of intensive care unit beds available, which is better than the state’s 20% threshold. And the county’s hospitals have 62% of their ventilators available, well above the state standard of 25%.

The change in three-day average of hospitalized patients stands at 11.4.%, much lower than the 10% state standard.

The OCHCA reported that 675,809 COVID-19 tests have been conducted, including 11,064 reported on Thursday. There have been 42,897 documented recoveries.

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