Orange Tier May Be Within Weeks for OC Provided Pandemic Improving Metrics Continue

Wednesday, March 17, 2021

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(Orange County Register)

Two days after Orange County entered the red tier of pandemic rules – allowing restaurants, movie theaters, and gyms to invite customers inside once again – the county’s latest coronavirus metrics suggest another leap toward normalcy isn’t far off.

If promising trends hold, Orange County is poised to spend only a few weeks in the red tier before advancing to the even more relaxed orange tier, which would bring back another wave of shuttered businesses, including bars and bowling alleys, with pandemic modifications in place.

The county’s COVID-19 case rate fell for the ninth week in a row to 4 cases per day per 100,000 residents, landing just above the orange tier threshold case rate of 3.9, according to a state Department of Public Health update on March 16.

Testing positivity – the share of nasal swab and saliva tests returning positive – fell from 3.2% last week to 2.2% this week, the lowest rate since before the summer surge.

Health equity – or testing positivity among low-income neighborhoods where residents have limited health care access – dropped from 4.1% last week to 3.5% this week.

Though both positivity metrics already meet orange tier criteria, all three of a county’s metrics must fall within the next tier’s ranges for two consecutive weeks to advance. Counties also have to hang out in a tier for at least three weeks before moving on to a better tier.

However, Gov. Gavin Newsom has overridden that framework at times in response to stormy and, more recently, sunny pandemic forecasts.

On March 14, Orange County and a dozen others across California advanced to the red tier ahead of schedule after state health officials declared public and private vaccinators had met a goal to administer 2 million doses to residents of 400 hard-hit ZIP codes.

Once the state surpasses 4 million shots in vaccine-deficient communities, the orange tier will be easier for counties to enter with a higher acceptable case rate.

Riverside and San Diego counties’ move to the red tier March 16 brought all of Orange County’s neighbors under the same softer rules.

Dr. Clayton Chau, OC Health Care Agency director and county health officer, said because state officials allowed counties that qualified for the red tier to switch earlier than expected, it’s not clear exactly when Orange County would notch its three weeks of red tier credit.

ast week, Chau said that given slower coronavirus spread and accelerating vaccination campaigns, Orange County could qualify for the orange tier by mid-April.

Chau suggested that part of the state’s framework could change as vaccinations climb.

“We (county health officers) are not sure if the rule of staying three weeks in a certain tier will stay,” Chau said in an email.

“I am hoping that once we hit 4 (million) doses in arms, the state will change the threshold between red and orange and any county that has last two weeks of orange can move right into that tier,” he said.

Category: COVID-19, orange county