Orange County’s weekly averages for COVID-19 metrics will keep it in the orange tier of the state’s economic reopening system, although it meets two of three categories for the least-restrictive yellow tier, according to most recent figures.
Numbers released Tuesday show the county’s weekly averages for adjusted daily case rate per 100,000 residents improved from 2.8 last Tuesday to 2.6.
The overall test positivity rate remained at 1.4%. The county’s Health Equity Quartile rate, which measures positivity in hotspots in disadvantaged communities, increased from 1.7% to 1.9%.
The county’s positivity rates qualify for the yellow tier, but the case counts are still in the orange tier.
A graduation into the yellow tier requires that the case rate must get below 2 per 100,000 people. The weekly averages are updated on Tuesdays, and a county must maintain metrics for a tier for two weeks before graduating to a less-restrictive level.
Also Tuesday, Orange County reported just 90 new COVID-19 cases, raising the cumulative total to 253,664. The county logged six more fatalities, but most of them occurred in February, January and December. The death toll stands at 4,939.
The number of COVID-19 patients in county hospitals increased from 115 on Monday to 128, while the number of intensive care unit patients increased from 23 to 27.
“One thing for concern is the number of people who are hospitalized now seem to be younger and that is across the state as well,” Dr. Clayton Chau, the county’s chief public health officer and director of the Orange County Health Care Agency, told the Board of Supervisors at their regular meeting Tuesday.
“That’s because we’ve done quite well in vaccinating our most vulnerable victims age 65 and older,” Chau said. As of April 18, the county had vaccinated 80% of its residents in that age group, he said.
The county has dispensed 2.57 million doses of vaccines with 978,000 people considered fully vaccinated, Chau said. About 1.9 million people have received their first dose, Chau said.
The county continues to test around the state average, Chau said. The county’s average this week is 308.8 per 100,000 residents. The county received 7,110 tests on Tuesday, raising the total to 3,624,119.
The board heard from 67 public speakers regarding the county’s continued declaration of a state of emergency and a vaccine verification process for those who wish to opt into the program.
Many speakers advanced conspiracy theories about tracking devices in the vaccines, prompting the supervisors to reiterate there is no way for the county to use its vaccine verification program to track the movements of recipients.
“There is no tracking and tracing mechanism,” Supervisor Lisa Bartlett said. “There is no big government following them around. If they have a smart phone they’re already being tracked.
“There are marketing companies out there that if you have a smart phone and GPS they can track you. If you have a car with a black box in it the insurance companies and the auto manufacturers can figure out where the vehicle was if it is stolen.”
The vaccine verification program would generate a QR code for recipients who have registered through the county’s Othena app and received a vaccine from the county and only if they ask for one.
It will not be “automatic,” Chau said.
The QR code also will not contain anything other than the name of the recipient and verification of vaccine receipt, Chau said.
“There is no (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) information on it. It is just a matter of convenience,” Bartlett said.
Chau said some businesses are requiring proof of vaccination, so some residents will want that. Some larger event coordinators are allowed bigger crowds if visitors can prove vaccination, Chau said.
Supervisor Katrina Foley and Board Chairman Andrew Do noted they received a letter from the Orange County Business Council supporting a vaccine verification program.
Chau said the county is expecting to receive 22% fewer vaccines in the next two to three weeks. It is not certain why that is, but Chau said it probably has to do with the pause in distribution of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which was lifted on Friday, while officials studied blood-clotting issues to about 15 people out of 8 million recipients.
Chau also said he anticipates demand for vaccines at the county-run super Point of Distribution sites to drop off soon, prompting a pivot to more mobile clinics to target vaccine hesitancy among certain demographics.
“We will have to consider how do we consolidate or close the super PODs because the resources will probably outweigh the demand,” Chau said.
Foley indicated that some super POD sites elsewhere in the county were receiving more vaccines than at the OC Fairgrounds in her district, but Do and Chau assured her that was not the case and said the county has been receiving fewer doses while vaccine allocations have risen for private health care providers.
Bartlett said it appears the county needs to vaccinate 740,000 more residents, “which is a lot,” before the county can achieve herd immunity.
Chau admitted some anxiety about reaching herd immunity in time for a mid-June goal due to the declining allocation of vaccines.
Supervisor Don Wagner quizzed Chau about the necessity of continuing a local emergency declaration now that the county’s COVID-19 statistics have improved.
Chau and Orange County CEO Frank Kim said it is important to continue the emergency declaration to qualify for federal and state relief for COVID-19 expenses.
Bartlett pointed out lifting the declaration could also jeopardize state and federal funding for other social safety net programs as well.
The board voted Tuesday to spend $5 million of federal relief package money to help arts-related nonprofit organizations and $10 million for “meal gap” assistance to seniors and others experiencing “food insecurity” as a result of the pandemic.
Foley proposed spending $25 million for small businesses, but her motion died for lack of a second after other supervisors said they were reluctant to devote that much of $28 million in discretionary funding before receiving guidance from the federal government on how the money can be spent.