Orange County officially entered the least-restrictive yellow tier of the state’s COVID-19 economic reopening blueprint Wednesday, while local coronavirus trends continued in a positive vein with just 51 new infections reported.
The new cases increased the county’s cumulative total from throughout the pandemic to 254,882.
“I think it is definitely a welcome reprieve from COVID, and many of our businesses will be thrilled to have more capacity,” Supervisor Katrina Foley told City News Service Tuesday. “And, in general, our community worked so hard to get to this point, wearing the masks, social distancing, getting vaccinated. And it’s working.
“The vaccines have dramatically reduced the spread of COVID in our community, and we are so close to herd immunity. We just need to keep encouraging people to get vaccinated,” she added.
Orange County CEO Frank Kim said the move to the yellow tier — which allows increased capacity at many businesses and a reopening of indoor bars — “is a continuation of the trends that we’ve seen over the past two weeks.” After the county moved up to the orange tier in mid-March, officials saw the average number of daily new infections had “plateaued” at about 3 per 100,000 residents, Kim said.
“We moved past the plateau,” Kim said. “It’s a testament to how effective vaccines are.”
Kim said officials kept a close eye on the numbers after moving into the orange tier and wondered, “Will there be a bump in case rates? And we haven’t seen that.”
The county established a mobile vaccine site in Santa Ana last weekend for clients of CalOptima, the county’s insurance provider for lower-income residents, and about 800 inoculations were done, Kim said.
“We’re going to be there for the next three or four weeks in a row,” he added.
Officials have seen a decline in vaccine demand at public and private sites. Foley suspects it is an issue of access for many.
“It’s hard to go during the day when you’re working, so I do have to keep reminding people no appointments are necessary at the Orange County Fairgrounds and it’s so easy to just drive up, walk up,” Foley said. “You can get it all done in 30 minutes.”
Foley said it is also important to emphasize that the vaccines have been vetted by scientists.
“If we can just make sure everybody understands that the vaccines are safe and effective and went through the appropriate trials,” Foley said. “And the scientists are confirming it’s highly effective at stopping the spread of COVID.”
Supervisor Don Wagner said the move into the yellow tier was “a long time coming and should have been done two weeks ago. We should also be getting rid of mask mandates and doing all kinds of stuff science justifies.”
Wagner agreed that the declining numbers are owed to the increasing vaccinations, and said the county has some of the best inoculation rates in the state.
“This is the reward and I would rather see it happen tomorrow than later,” Wagner said.
The county’s daily new case rate as of Monday, the most recent data reported, was 1.4 per 100,000 people, Kim said. On Sunday, the case rate was 1.5 per 100,000. The testing-positivity rates overall and in lower socioeconomic communities was 0.9%, Kim said.
According to the weekly state data released every Tuesday, the average for the county’s daily case rate per 100,000 people dropped from 1.8 last week to 1.5. The overall test positivity rate improved from 1% to 0.9%, and the county’s Health Equity Quartile rate, which measures positivity in hot spots in disadvantaged communities, declined from 1.2% to 0.9%.
Graduating to the yellow tier allows for greater attendance for many businesses such as movie theaters and gyms, while museums, zoos and aquariums can open at full capacity. For the first time bars and distilleries can open indoors. Theme parks such as Disneyland can expand capacity.
The Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum reopened Wednesday for the first time since the pandemic closed it last year. That move, however, was planned regardless of whether the county moved up to the yellow tier.
“After 14 challenging months, we couldn’t be more pleased to welcome visitors to the first presidential library in the county to reopen its doors,” said Nixon Foundation President Hugh Hewitt.
The museum will be open from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Wednesdays through Sundays.
Hospitalization numbers due to the virus dropped from 78 Tuesday to 70 Wednesday, with the number of intensive care unit patients inching up from 14 to 15.
The county reported 12,838 tests, boosting the cumulative to 3,827,391. The seven-day average of daily tests dipped from 277.6 per 100,000 last week to 263.7 per 100,000.
The county logged three more fatalities Wednesday, increasing the overall death toll to 5,034.
One of the fatalities was in May, upping the death toll this month to just two.
April’s death toll was actually revised down to 36. March’s death toll remained at 180.
One of the newly logged fatalities happened in February, increasing that month’s death toll to 581.
The death toll for January, the deadliest by far during the pandemic, increased by one to 1,537. Another fatality logged Wednesday increased the death toll for December, the second deadliest month, to 932.