Orange County Moves Closer to Red Tier for Reopening Economy

March 1, 2021 Updated: March 1, 2021

SANTA ANA—Orange County may find itself close to the less- restrictive red tier in the state’s program for reopening the economy on March 2.

As of Feb. 28, the state’s case rate per 100,000 residents was 8.2, the testing positivity rate was at 4.1 percent and the health equity quartile positivity rate, which measures coronavirus prevalence in hot spots in low-income communities, was 5.3 percent, said Orange County chief executive Frank Kim.

“It was a rainbow,” Kim told City News Service. “For the case rate we were purple, but testing positivity was orange and for the health equity we were red.”

As of March 1, the case rate was 7.6, testing positivity rate was 3.9 percent and the health equity rate was 5 percent, “which is the lowest health equity rate we’ve had since we were measured for that,” Kim said.

The county’s test positivity rate—which is reported weekly on Tuesdays—improved to 5.4 percent last week from 7.8 percent the previous week, and the adjusted case rate per 100,000 on a seven-day average with a seven-day lag improved from 20.7 to 11.9.

Kim said it’s possible the county makes it to the red tier March 2.

There is a rule that if a county has two measures in orange but one in the most-restrictive purple tier, it can vault up one spot to the red tier. To move up to a less-restrictive tier, though, a county must stay within those metrics for at least two weeks.

To get to the red tier, the county has to have a case rate per 100,000 population of 4 to 7, a positivity rate of 5 percent to 8 percent and a Health Equity Quartile rate of 5.3 percent to 8 percent.

The red tier allows for many more businesses and organizations to reopen. For instance, retail stores could allow for half capacity instead of 25 percent, and museums, zoos and aquariums could reopen for indoor activities at 25 percent capacity, as could movie theaters, gyms and restaurants.

Knott’s Berry Farm in Buena Park on Monday announced a virtual “National Hiring Day” on March 13 in anticipation of its plan to prepare for reopening. The theme park is looking to hire about 1,700 people for a variety of jobs throughout Knott’s, including food and beverage, cooks, ride operators,
lifeguards and janitorial.

The Orange County Health Care Agency reported 179 newly diagnosed cases of COVID-19 and four additional deaths on March 1, bringing the county cumulative case number to 246,634 and boosting the death toll to 3,921. HCA officials reported technical issues with the state’s death reports system, so
fatalities might be relatively low over the next several days.

The fatality reports are staggered as they come from a variety of sources. So far in January, the deadliest month of the pandemic, the county has reported 1,231 fatalities. December’s death toll stands at 883, while the count for February is at 103.

The deadliest day in the pandemic was Jan. 5 when 66 people died of COVID-19-related complications. The December and January fatalities represent 54 percent of the coronavirus death toll since the county’s first fatality on March 19 last year.

Hospitalizations due to the coronavirus continued to decline, dropping from 421 Sunday to 419 on Monday, with the number of COVID-19 patients in intensive care units falling from 132 to 119.

The county has 31.1 percent of its ICU beds available and 63 percent of its ventilators, according to the HCA, which reported 5,435 tests March 1 for a total of 3,048,845.