Orange County reported 133 new cases of COVID-19 and no additional fatalities Monday, bringing the county’s totals to 53,448 cases and leaving the death toll at 1,216.
Hospitalizations dipped from 165 Sunday to 161 Monday, with the number of patients in intensive care increasing from 45 to 46. The county has 38% of its intensive care unit beds available and 67% of its ventilators. The change in 3-day average for hospitalized patients rate is -4.4%.
The reporting of fewer than 200 new cases was a good sign, officials say. The county is eyeing the case rate as it teeters between moving up from the red tier to the less restrictive orange tier in the state’s monitoring system.
The positivity rates and cases per 100,000 people are updated Tuesdays. Officials will know for certain then if the county will move to the orange tier.
It appears Orange County will not clear the threshold for one of two metrics to make it up a rung of the state’s ladder from the red to the orange tier, Orange County CEO Frank Kim said.
The case rate per 100,000 people is expected to be a little above 4, the ceiling for the orange tier, Kim said.
“We had a small spike … since mid-September,” Kim said.
It’s possible it was a “holiday spike” related to Labor Day as county officials still work to discourage get-togethers among friends and extended family, Kim said. One of the thorniest problems is young adults renting out vacation residences for parties, Kim said.
The small spike in cases per 100,000 people “doesn’t signify something terrible in the community,” Kim said.
“When you get down to around 3.5 to 4 cases per 100,000 that’s very small,” Kim said.
In a county the size of Orange County with a population of about three million that would be about 32 additional cases. It is difficult to pin down the source of outbreaks in a sample size that small, Kim said.
Orange County Supervisor Lisa Bartlett said there is concern about a see-sawing back and forth between the red and orange tiers, because if the county has to step back a tier that locks it into place for at least three weeks even if the metrics match a less-restrictive tier.
“We have some credits that can be applied” to move up to the orange tier Tuesday, Bartlett said. “But I don’t think it’s enough. We won’t know till we hear from the state (later Monday)… We’re going to be at or just above (the red tier) is my guess.”
It is possible recent spikes in case rates can be attributed to Labor Day get-togethers and students returning to in-class instruction, but the experts do not know for certain, Bartlett said.
If the county does not make the orange tier on Tuesday it would mean the earliest it could make it is close to mid-October because a county must stay within an upper range for two consecutive weeks before moving up, Kim said.
The Orange County Health Care Agency also reported Monday that 849,985 COVID-19 tests have been conducted, including 3,089 reported Monday. There have been 47,955 documented recoveries.
Since the pandemic began, 446 of the deaths were among skilled nursing facility residents, and 85 among assisted living facility residents.
Last week, the county reported 87 deaths. Since Sunday, there have been two reported fatalities.
The overall positivity rate went from 3.9% to 3.1%, and the daily case count per 100,000 people dropped from 4.7 to 3.6 last week.
To qualify for the orange tier, the positivity rate must be 2%-4%, and the case rate per 100,000 must be 1%-3.9%.
Moving to the orange tier means retail businesses could operate at full capacity, instead of 50% in the red tier. Shopping malls also could operate at full capacity, but with closed common areas and reduced food courts just as in the red tier.
The orange tier boosts capacity for churches, restaurants, movies, museums, zoos and aquariums from 25% capacity to half capacity. Gyms and fitness centers could boost capacity from 10% to 25% and reopen pools.
The orange tier also allows family entertainment centers like bowling alleys and wall-climbing to open indoors to 25% capacity.
Orange County’s schools are already eligible to reopen for indoor, personal instruction, but not all of them have reopened. Schools in Fountain Valley and several other districts reopened last week and on Monday.
It is up to school districts to decide and many are offering “hybrid models” of some in-person instruction and some online-only instruction, Kim said. Some school districts will allow parents to continue with distance learning only.
If there is a breakout at any of the schools, they would have to close for two weeks and have no more COVID-19 cases before reopening, said Dr. Clayton Chau, the county’s Health Care Agency director and chief health officer.
Dr. Matthew Zahn of the county’s communicable disease control division told reporters Thursday that if 5% of a school’s population of students or teachers get infected, the campus will be shut down for two weeks, according to the state’s guidelines.
Zahn said the county is reluctant to post information about outbreaks at schools because it tends to send the wrong message that schools without an outbreak are safer, and parents and students may let their guard down.
School officials will respond within 24 hours when there is a COVID-19 infection reported, Zahn said.
With regard to college dormitories as UC Irvine students are moving back to campus, Zahn said, “A significant issue associated with (what happened in San Diego) was off-campus housing and transmission of the virus. We have been talking with UC Irvine and other colleges and universities not only about classroom sites and what’s appropriate but dorm facilities and off-campus housing.”
“Move-In Week” began last Tuesday at UCI and will continue through Sept. 29. Students are being tested and getting results within 48 to 72 hours.
Kim informed city managers on Monday that the county is shutting down its Project Roomkey participation, which provides hotel rooms for transients who are infected or most at-risk of contracting coronavirus.
The county has to phase out the program because it needs to negotiate damage claims with the hotel operators by the end of the year so the county can use federal funding for the program to pay for the repairs, Kim said.
With the flu season approaching and the potential for what experts are calling a “twindemic,” county officials are working to house some transients most at risk of coronavirus and the flu into longterm care facilities and they are ramping up flu vaccinations for the homeless, Kim said.
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