Orange County May Move to More Relaxed Red Tier Next Week
Wednesday, March 10, 2021
Orange County notched week one of two in qualifying to move to the less restrictive red tier of pandemic rules, according to a state Department of Public Health update on March 9.
If three key coronavirus metrics continue their downward tumble from pandemic peaks in early January, the county will officially move out of the strictest purple tier next Tuesday, March 16, meaning a range of businesses, including restaurants, movie theaters, and gyms, could begin letting masked customers indoors the following day.
Orange County rounded out a second full month of improving pandemic figures this week as the rate of coronavirus cases fell to 6 per day per 100,000 residents from 7.6 per 100,000 last week, crossing the final threshold to kick off the red tier transition.
Two other metrics used to decide a county’s level of pandemic rules – the share of tests coming back positive countywide and among hard-hit neighborhoods – dipped deeper this week. Alone, they would qualify Orange County for the next-best orange tier.
Countywide testing positivity fell to 3.2% from 3.9% last week, and positivity among health care-deficient communities – called the health equity metric – dropped to 4.1% this week from 5% last week.
However, all three metrics must fall within the next tier’s range for two consecutive weeks to advance in the state’s four-level system, and counties have to remain in a tier for at least three weeks before moving forward again.
At a county Board of Supervisors March 9 meeting, OC Health Care Agency director and county health officer Dr. Clayton Chau again predicted that the county would complete the shift next week.
“We have a very high probability of (moving) officially into the red tier next Wednesday,” Chau said.
Last week, Gov. Gavin Newsom decided to make it easier for counties to move to more relaxed tiers once 2 million vaccinations are done in 400 vulnerable California ZIP codes.
Once that goal is met, the case rate threshold to qualify for the red tier would relax to 10 cases per day per 100,000 residents. But the change-up appears unlikely to help Orange County’s chances to enter the red tier – the county was already on track under the current scheme – but the county would be less likely to slip back to the purple tier if metrics worsen, Chau told supervisors.
“It gives us that buffer,” he said. “If you have more people get vaccinated, there’s less chance for the virus to spread. That’s why the threshold for the number of people infected can be more relaxed.”
By Monday, 1.9 million doses had been administered to residents of the state’s vaccine-troubled ZIP codes, four of which cover sections of Santa Ana, Anaheim, and Garden Grove, according to state Department of Public Health data. Some 10.6 million vaccinations have been administered statewide.
Chau said he expects California to hit its 2 million-dose goal sometime next week as vaccines – including newly-inbound Johnson & Johnson doses – become more abundant.
And once the state passes a second milestone of 4 million doses administered in the target ZIP codes, the even less restrictive orange tier would be easier to reach with a case rate target between 2 and 5.9 cases per 100,000.
By Monday, 868,000 doses had been administered in Orange County, more than a third of which were administered by the county’s health agency at its mass vaccination sites and roaming pop-up clinics.
Newsom’s office announced Monday that more than 200,000 teachers and other education workers had been vaccinated statewide after eligibility was broadened to more essential workers last week.