Orange County, which moved this week into the least-restrictive tier of the state’s COVID-19 economic reopening blueprint, has reported a small uptick in coronavirus-related hospitalizations and logged four more fatalities.

The county also reported 37 new infections, increasing the cumulative caseload to 254,919.

Two of the newly reported deaths occurred this month and the other two last month, bringing the death toll from the pandemic to 5,038.

Hospitalization numbers due to the virus increased from 70 Wednesday to 75 Thursday, with the number of intensive care unit patients ticking up from 15 to 22.

Orange County Supervisor Lisa Bartlett said the increase in hospitalizations should not be considered a red flag.

“It’s not a big enough of a spike to be concerned about,” she told City News Service. “I think we have to expect relative to COVID that you can’t expect to have declining numbers and metrics day after day.”

The fatalities logged Thursday increased the death toll for May to four and April’s tally to 38.

The death tolls in February and March remain at 581 and 180, respectively. The death toll for January, the deadliest by far during the pandemic, stands at 1,537. December was the deadliest month, with 932 fatalities.

Orange County on Wednesday officially entered the least-restrictive yellow tier of the reopening blueprint, which 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.

“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 CNS on 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 “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 administered, 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.”

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%.

The Discovery Cube Orange County, a children’s museum in Santa Ana, announced Thursday that it would reopen on May 28.

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.

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