SANTA ANA—Orange County reported 119 new cases of COVID-19 and 14 additional deaths March 28, along with another decline in the number of coronavirus patients in county hospitals.
Hospitalizations fell from 170 on March 27 to 156, with the number of COVID patients in intensive care units (ICU) dropping from 28 to 25, according to the Orange County Health Care Agency (OCHCA). 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 lower than 36 patients.
The OCHCA also reported 9,407 COVID-19 tests March 28, raising the cumulative total to 3,319,544. The county has 35.2 percent of its ICU bed space available, and 73 percent of its ventilators.
March 28’s numbers brought the county’s totals to 250,308 cases and 4,725 fatalities since the pandemic began.
Orange County’s daily COVID-19 statistics have continued to move the county from the red to the orange tier in the state’s four-tier program to reopen the economy. If current trends continue, the county could graduate to the orange tier by March 31, officials said.
Orange County chief executive Frank Kim said the case rate as of March 26 was 3.2, the positivity rate was 1.8 percent, which qualifies for the yellow tier, and the positivity rate among the health equity category was 3.1 percent.
Moving up to the orange tier would allow for more business to reopen. Retail stores wouldn’t have to limit attendance, and churches, movie theaters, museums, zoos, and aquariums could expand attendance to 50 percent of capacity.
Restaurants could expand indoor dining to 50 percent, wineries could offer indoor service at 25 percent, and bars that don’t serve food could reopen outdoors for the first time.
Gyms and fitness centers could expand to 25 percent of capacity, and family entertainment centers could offer indoor attractions such as bowling.
Orange County will open another major vaccination site at the fairgrounds in Costa Mesa this week, newly elected Supervisor Katrina Foley said.
The new site will be open on March 31, a day before residents 50 years and older become eligible for inoculations.
“It will have extended hours so that people who work or can’t take a day off work … will be able to go at more flexible times,” Foley said, adding that she was “working on having some designated lines” for various categories such as hospital, food industry, or theme park workers.
The site will have walk-up and drive-through appointments, Foley said.
She would also like to have a no-appointment option as well, “which will help us reach the more vulnerable communities” who struggle with making an appointment through the county’s website or app.
Foley, who was mayor of Costa Mesa before her election to the county board earlier this month, said she was excited for the OC Fair to return next summer.
“The more people we get vaccinated the more fun we’ll have at the fair next summer,” Foley said. “That’s one of the beauties of having a super site at the fairgrounds. It will remind everyone that we have fun on the horizon if everybody gets vaccinated faster and more efficiently.”
Meanwhile, Orange County Sheriff Don Barnes reopened visits at the county’s jails on March 26 for the first time in a year. Barnes said the protocols he implemented to curb the spread of coronavirus in the jails have been successful.
There were no inmates infected with the virus as of March 27, according to Lt. Dennis Breckner. Authorities were awaiting the results of 455 tests. Inmates will be able to get one visit per month initially, the sheriff said.
Also, the sheriff can now offer vaccines to all inmates. Previously, the county was working to inoculate seniors who were 65 and older.
Barnes said he would continue to oppose the American Civil Liberties Union’s efforts to compel the release of more inmates to help curb the spread of COVID-19, noting he has released 1,700 low-level offenders since the pandemic started.
“I believe they represent a significant risk to the community if released,” he said.