SANTA ANA, Calif. (CNS)—Orange County officials say COVID-19 numbers are improving enough to move it up a level to the next, less restrictive orange tier in the state's monitoring system within a week if trends continue.
The Orange County Health Care Agency (OCHCA) reported Sept. 22 that the overall testing positivity rate for COVID-19 dropped to 3.1 percent from 3.9 percent, while the daily case count per 100,000 people fell from 4.7 to 3.6.
The county has to remain within that range for another week and then it can move up from the red to the orange tier, Orange County CEO Frank Kim said.
"There has been a steady but consistent decline in testing positivity rate. Things are looking good," Kim said.
To move up from the second-most restrictive red tier to the orange tier in the state's four-tier color-coded monitoring system, the county must have a daily new case rate per 100,000 people of 1 to 3.9, and a testing positivity rate of 2 percent to 4.9 percent.
Orange County also reported 22 additional COVID-19 deaths and 181 new cases on Sept. 22, bringing the county's totals to 52,382 cases and 1,150 fatalities.
The deaths were spread out over the past few weeks, according to the OCHCA. The lag in reporting is common since the data come from multiple sources, officials say. The last double-digit day of fatalities occurred at the end of last month.
Considering the average incubation period of two weeks, if Labor Day gatherings were going to have an effect, county officials would be seeing it by now, Kim said.
"It's a big week," Kim said. "If we miss it this week, you have to wait another seven days."
Moving up to the orange tier means retail businesses could operate at full capacity, instead of 50 percent in the current red tier. Shopping malls also could operate at full capacity, but with closed common areas and reduced food courts just as in the red tier.
The orange tier boosts capacity for churches, restaurants, movies, museums, zoos, and aquariums from 25 percent capacity to half capacity. Gyms and fitness centers could boost capacity from 10 percent to 25 percent, and also reopen pools.
The orange tier allows family entertainment centers like bowling alleys and wall climbing facilities to open indoors to 25 percent capacity.
Orange County's schools are already eligible to reopen for indoor, personal instruction, but not all of them will reopen right away.
It is up to school districts to decide, and many are offering "hybrid models" of some in-person instruction and some online-only instruction, Kim said.
Schools in Fountain Valley reopened on Sept. 22. Some school districts will allow parents to continue with distance learning only.
If there is a COVID-19 breakout at any of the schools, they would have to close for two weeks and have no more cases before reopening, said Dr. Clayton Chau, the county's Health Care Agency director and chief health officer.
Kim said the county is committed to providing mobile testing and contact tracing for the schools, but does not determine whether schools reopen or not.
"We are simply consulting, to allow it to occur, but our expectation is schools will continue to meet with labor, nurses, and their physicians and parents, so it is being done in a way that is totally transparent," he said.
"We've learned our lessons from Memorial Day, and Labor Day is much better than Memorial Day."
Last week, the county reported 34 fatalities, down from 42 the week prior. Since Sept. 20, the county has reported 23 fatalities.
Hospitalizations in the county dropped from 178 on Sept. 21 to 170 on Sept. 22, with the number of patients in intensive care declining from 64 to 55.
The OCHCA reported that 805,192 COVID-19 tests have been conducted, including 7,004 reported on Sept. 22. There have been 47,197 documented recoveries.
Of the deaths reported on Sept. 22, two were skilled nursing facility residents and two were assisted living facility residents.
Since the pandemic began, 425 skilled nursing facility residents and 79 assisted living facility residents in Orange County have succumbed to the disease.
Since the pandemic began, 353 of those infected who died were 85 years or older; 246 were 75 to 84; 235 were 65 to 74; 163 were 55 to 64; 99 were 45 to 54; 32 were 35 to 44; 17 were 25 to 34; four were 18 to 24; and only one was a child.
The county has 65 percent of its ventilators available, along with 36 percent of its intensive care unit beds. The change in three-day average hospitalized patients is down 13.8 percent.