Orange County Moves to Yellow Tier

Wednesday, May 19, 2021

Main News Photo

(Orange County Register)

After weeks of waiting and watching COVID-19 case statistics tick slowly down, Orange County has qualified for the state’s yellow tier, with restrictions on businesses further loosening as of May 19.

State data released on May 18 show the number of cases per 100,000 residents had reached 1.5 and had remained below the threshold of 2 cases per 100,000 for the required two weeks.

While not much will change for some businesses – most stores and restaurants have already returned to full capacity – others will be cleared to reopen indoor service or expand capacity.

Theme parks including the Disneyland and Knott’s Berry Farm can increase from 25% to 35% of normal visitor capacity; bars that don’t serve food can now invite a percentage of patrons inside, and museums, zoos, and aquariums can increase from 50% to full capacity.

Disneyland has not announced if more reservation spots will become available now that the park can increase capacity. “We continue to work with California and local health officials, and follow their overall guidance, as we implement our health and safety plans and protocols,” Disneyland officials said in a statement.

Disneyland resort President Ken Potrock said during an interview when Disneyland reopened April 30 that Disney’s Anaheim theme parks planned to increase attendance capacity when Orange County moves into the yellow tier and when state protocols change on June 15.

As more businesses and economic sectors reopen, state health officials continue to urge caution.

On May 17, state Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly said rules requiring masks indoors will remain in place until June 15, when the state is expected to do away with the colored tier system and mask mandate. People who are fully vaccinated can dispense with masks outdoors unless they’re in a crowd, and unvaccinated people are asked to mask up outside whenever they can’t keep a distance from others.

The county’s move to the least restrictive tier is welcome for some of OC’s cultural institutions, which depend on their relationships with visitors as well as admission fees, donations, and facility rentals.

Because of the progress Orange County has made in bringing down case counts and getting residents vaccinated, the Richard Nixon Presidential Library & Museum in Yorba Linda will reopen its main galleries Wednesday with a special 10 a.m. event to welcome visitors back, Nixon Foundation spokesman Joe Lopez said.

At Santa Ana’s Bowers Museum, President Peter Keller said the institution has continued to connect with audiences by making lectures and even docent tours available online. But the limit on weddings and corporate events has been a revenue hit, he said, and the yellow tier will allow them to move up from 50-guest “micro weddings” to 200-person outdoor events.

When the pandemic hit, “it was depressing since we had just opened our big Disney exhibition,” Keller said, but museum officials were able to extend that through June 20, and a collection of carvings and sculptures in gold and jade from Taiwanese artists will remain until early September.

Along with the case rate, the state watches two more metrics in deciding the tiers assignments to make sure counties are showing progress: the percentage of COVID-19 tests coming back positive and the spread in traditionally under-served communities to make sure they aren’t being hit harder by the virus than the rest of the county. For both of those, Orange County has been meeting the threshold for the yellow tier for weeks and continues to show progress.

Orange County is also making headway with vaccinations. State statistics show as of Monday, more than 1.31 million Orange County residents are fully vaccinated, and another 355,000 have received one dose of a two-dose vaccine.

The county-run mass vaccination sites are set to close as of June 5 after pre-scheduled appointments dropped off significantly in recent weeks; instead, county officials have said they plan to focus on mobile operations and people have other options with pharmacies, health care providers, and community clinics.

OC Supervisors Andrew Do, who chairs the board, and Don Wagner cited the county’s vaccination rate (“better than surrounding counties”) and last week’s federal guidance on masks in a news release urging state officials to nix all mask requirements now for anyone who has been inoculated.

Do could not be reached for comment Tuesday afternoon, but in the release, he asked that state health officials “follow the science and recognize Orange County’s success by lifting the mask mandate for residents who have followed the government’s advice and got vaccinated.”

State officials said the June 15 date was set to give businesses and residents “time to prepare” and may encourage more to get a vaccine before then.


Category: orange county, COVID-19, California, COVID Tier