Orange County’s encouraging COVID-19 trends continued Friday with just 24 new infections reported and hospitalizations at rates not seen since the beginning of the pandemic.
The new cases boosted the cumulative total to 255,371.
Hospitalizations dropped from 60 Thursday to 59 Friday, and the number of intensive care unit patients decreased from 16 to 13.
Hospitalizations “fluctuate up and down, but there’s a clear downward trend,” Orange County Supervisor Lisa Bartlett said Wednesday. “We’re trending in the right direction. If there was something like a gold or platinum tier, we’d be there by now.”
Three more fatalities were logged Friday, upping the overall death toll to 5,073. Two of the fatalities occurred in February and one was in March.
The death toll for May stands at 10, 41 for April, 185 in March, 583 in February and 1,548 for January, the deadliest month during the pandemic, and 959 for December, the next deadliest.
Another 11,537 COVID-19 tests were reported, bringing the county’s total to 3,953,225.
The county’s weekly average of tests per 100,000 is 233.1.
According to weekly state data released every Tuesday, the average for the county’s daily case rate per 100,000 residents dropped from 1.3 to 0.9. The overall test positivity rate improved from 0.8% to 0.6%, and the county’s Health Equity Quartile rate, which measures positivity in hot spots in disadvantaged communities, remained at 0.7%.
Those numbers guaranteed the county remained in the least-restrictive yellow tier. The state is getting ready to scrap its tier system for reopening the economy during the pandemic.
“We’re excited about June 15 and what it means technically, but until (Gov. Gavin Newsom) makes that announcement, we don’t know what the caveats will be,” Bartlett said.
Meanwhile, the board of the California Occupational Safety and Health Administration, or Cal-OSHA, voted Thursday night to revise state rules as of June 15 — allowing employees to shed masks in the workplace, but only if everyone in the room is fully vaccinated against COVID-19. The board said the move was a stopgap while it considers further easing of rules in the coming weeks and months.
In Orange County, face coverings will continue to be required by public transportation officials, Bartlett said.
“It’s very confusing and people are very frustrated at this point because there’s no clear delineation what policy will prevail for face coverings,” she said.
Andrew Noymer, a UC Irvine professor of population health and disease prevention, has predicted that COVID-19 will be mild this summer but may pick up again in the fall. He has said that vaccinated people at least should be given a break from mask wearing during the good months because they might have to mask up again in the fall. Others have argued that if people ditch masks now, they won’t put on a face covering again later when it is necessary.
Noymer predicted that “June, July and August are going to look dandy, but then the kids will be back in school in late August and let the games begin. It’s going to come back. Will it be like last January? I doubt it, but this thing is not over.”
Noymer said the state is “doing very well” with vaccinations, so any wave in the fall will be tamped down because of that. States struggling with vaccinations may struggle in the fall and winter, he said.
“People are going to say any lockdowns were useless because we’ve opened up and nothing is happening and that is the most specious argument,” Noymer said. “That’s just not the right logic.”
Orange County CEO Frank Kim agreed earlier this week that the numbers “are looking pretty good.”
County officials have seen an overall decline in demand for vaccinations, but, on the other hand, they are having success reaching many residents with mobile vaccination centers, particularly with the one in Santa Ana serving clients of CalOptima, the county’s insurance for low-income residents, Kim said.
“They were doing over 1,000 (vaccinations) a day,” Kim said of mobile vaccine points of distribution.
Orange County officially entered the least-restrictive yellow tier of the reopening blueprint on May 19, which allowed for greater attendance for many businesses such as movie theaters and gyms, while museums, zoos and aquariums were allowed to open at full capacity. For the first time, bars and distilleries were able to open indoors, and theme parks such as Disneyland could expand attendance.