Orange County Tuesday moved into the orange tier under the state’s program to reopen the economy during the COVID-19 pandemic, allowing for more restrictions to be eased on a number of businesses.
“Tomorrow is the magic day,” when the new tier’s rules can be implemented, Orange County Supervisor Doug Chaffee said. “We are orange, but it’s the next day that it kicks in. It sounds like a bit of sunshine. It’s great to get out there and get onto the next tier. My goodness, keep up the good work. We don’t want to stop at Orange.”
Supervisor Lisa Bartlett said, “I’m just thrilled we’re moving into the orange tier because it really opens up our local economy and it means we’re able to balance the economy with the local public health. It’s just so exciting for Orange County businesses and residents.”
Supervisor Katrina Foley said it was “hopeful news and well received by our business community as well as our residents because many people are anxious to get back to some semblance of normalcy. We still have to be very careful and wear our masks and be diligent about social distancing … Baseball starts Thursday. And I’m looking forward to fun at the fair this summer.”
The latest weekly update from the state, issued on Tuesdays, showed the county’s test positivity rate improved from 2.1% to 1.7%, and the adjusted case rate per 100,000 people on a seven-day average with a seven-day lag improved from 3.5 last Tuesday to 2.8.
The county’s Health Equity Quartile rate, which measures positivity in hotspots in disadvantaged communities, improved from 3.2% last week to 2.6%.
Moving up to the orange tier allows for more business to reopen. Retail stores would not have to limit attendance at all, and churches, movie theaters, museums, zoos and aquariums could expand attendance from 25% to 50% of capacity.
Restaurants could expand indoor dining to 50%, wineries could offer indoor service at 25%, and bars that don’t serve food could reopen outdoors for the first time.
Gyms and fitness centers could expand to 25% of capacity, and family entertainment centers could offer indoor attractions such as bowling.
“Now that they can at least open outdoors with modifications, that’s huge for the bars,” Bartlett said.
“People ask me, `Oh, we got three so quickly, are we going to the yellow tier next week?’ Probably not,” she said. “The yellow tier means we’ve pretty much eradicated COVID.”
The case rates have to dip under one per 100,000 to make it to the yellow tier, but the county has qualified for the yellow tier in positivity rates for the last week, Orange County CEO Frank Kim said.
But the state is nearing its goal of four million inoculations of underprivileged people with the number now at 3.4 million.
“That will help us keep in the orange tier in the event we have a little bit of a blip or uptick in cases per 100,000,” Bartlett said.
The county received an additional 44,000 doses of vaccines this week, Bartlett said. That brings the county’s total to 115,000 this week. Federal allocation to the pharmacies has also risen, Kim said.
The infusion of vaccines will help the county go beyond the planned 2,000 doses a day when the new super POD site opens at the Orange County Fairgrounds in Costa Mesa on Wednesday, Kim said. County officials plan to open the new vaccine distribution site at 8 a.m. Wednesday and hold a news conference at noon.
The county reported 106 new coronavirus cases and 14 additional deaths on Tuesday. The cumulative case count is 250,537 and the death toll is 4,740.
All of the deaths logged Tuesday occurred in March, upping the death toll for this month to 105.
The death toll for February is 544. The death toll for January, the deadliest by far during the pandemic, is at 1,460, and it is 920 for December, the next deadliest month. The December and January death tolls reflect a holiday-fueled surge.
Hospitalizations fell from 145 Monday to 143, with the number of COVID patients in intensive care units decreasing from 29 to 26, according to the Orange County Health Care Agency. It’s not clear when ICU numbers have been this low, as the county’s website dates back to late May and there is no data since then lower than 36 patients.
The OCHCA also reported 7,248 COVID-19 tests Tuesday, raising the cumulative total to 3,332,327. The county has 35.7% of its ICU bed space available, and 73% of its ventilators.
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