OC Officials Say County Will Soon Go Off Watch List, Allowing Schools to Reopen

August 20, 2020 Updated: August 21, 2020

Officials in Orange County, California, announced Aug. 20 that positive trends in county case numbers for COVID-19 may soon allow the county to reopen schools for in-person learning.

The Orange County Health Care Agency (OCHCA) reported that the county dipped below significant data-monitoring thresholds used to determine a state watch list on Aug. 19. Once the county remains off the watch list for 14 consecutive days, in-person education for K-12 schools is allowed to resume.

OCHCA Director Clayton Chau said during a press conference that he is “very optimistic that it will go well,” and that he aims for the county to be off the watch list by Sept. 6.

On Aug. 20, the OCHCA reported that the county’s case rate per 100,000 residents fell from 98.6 to 96.6—still far above the state’s desired threshold of 25 cases per 100,000—and the rate of county residents testing positive for the disease dropped to 5.7 percent from 5.9 percent.

But Orange County CEO Frank Kim said on Aug. 19 that because the case count is under 100 per 100,000 residents and the positivity test rate is below the state’s desired 8 percent, the county may be removed from the state’s watch list as soon as Aug. 22 due to newly outlined metrics.

Orange County Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Michelle Steel said the officials’ “first priority is to protect public health and safety.”

“With the waiver process, and the careful review by the Health Care Agency and approval by the state, we can work together to make sure schools open safely as the new school year begins.”

According to Chau, 10 county elementary schools have already submitted waiver applications to the state to reopen early. He said the applications were approved by county officials and the state on Aug. 19.

An additional 24 elementary school waivers are pending approval by the state, he added.

The state introduced the waiver process for elementary schools in early August, allowing them to reopen for in-person instruction if certain conditions are met.

To be considered, schools must be located in counties with fewer than 200 COVID-19 cases per 100,000 residents, and the majority of staff, students, and parents must be in agreement to proceed with on-site learning.

Chau said the OCHCA will support reopening schools by offering COVID-19 testing for staff and students. Schools will have access to a full medical team, including pediatric infectious disease specialists, which will be standing by to assist as needed.

“We understand there are risks, but the majority of applications have large staff and parental support,” said Chau.

Families concerned about sending their children to school amid the COVID-19 pandemic can opt out of in-person learning and continue virtual education for their kids, he said.

The OCHCA on Aug. 20 reported 429 new COVID-19 cases and 23 deaths, bringing the county totals to 44,936 confirmed cases and 856 fatalities. On Aug. 19, the agency reported the first death of a person under 18 years old from the disease.