Following a surge in coronavirus cases and hospitalizations last month, Orange County was removed Sunday from the state list of counties being monitored for the virus.
The move marks a turning point for the county. If the rates of new cases and tests performed, percentages of positive tests and hospitalizations, as well as available intensive care beds and ventilators remain at acceptable levels for the next two weeks, K-12 students could resume in-person classes after Labor Day weekend.
Positive tests remained at 5.4%, which is below the state’s maximum threshold of 8%, and the three-day average of hospitalizations fell Sunday by nearly 5%, according to the Orange County Health Care Agency.
Newport Beach police enforce closures along the Wedge in Newport Beach, a popular surf spot. (Irfan Khan/Los Angeles Times)
Spectators along the Wedge in Newport Beach, a surf spot, on July 4. (Irfan Khan/Los Angeles Times)
A bicyclist rides along Highland Avenue with the pier closed to beachgoers on July 3 in Manhattan Beach. (Gary Coronado/Los Angeles Times)
Peter Gratzinger of Pacific Palisades heads to the water at Santa Monica State Beach, which opened to the public at 5 a.m. July 6. (Myung J. Chun/Los Angeles Times)
A bicyclist with her child rides along the closed bike path on July 3 in Manhattan Beach. (Gary Coronado/Los Angeles Times)
A police officer and a lifeguard boat comb the shoreline in Venice Beach on July 5. Even though the beach was closed over the weekend a few still made their way to the shoreline. (Genaro Molina/Los Angeles Times)
No-parking signs from the July 4 weekend still block spots on Ocean Avenue in Santa Monica on Monday. (Myung J. Chun/Los Angeles Times)
Dusk sets in over the the Santa Monica Pier on Friday. (Gina Ferazzi/Los Angeles Times)
Southern California residents watch the fireworks during the Drive-Up 4th of July Spectacular at the Los Alamitos Joint Forces Training Base on Saturday in Los Alamitos. (Gina Ferazzi/Los Angeles Times)
Bella Nousiainen, left, with daughter, Helmi Nousiainen, of Los Angeles, at the Santa Monica Pier, which reopens after being closed to guests for months because of the coronavirus. (Gary Coronado/Los Angeles Times)
Dr. Jamie Taylor checks the ventilators at the refashioned St. Vincent Hospital. (Wally Skalij/Los Angeles Times)
Shoppers and mannequins wear protective masks in the Los Angeles downtown garment district on Thursday. (Luis Sinco/Los Angeles Times)
Patrons wear face coverings at Grand Central Market in downtown Los Angeles on Thursday. A recent surge in COVID-19 cases in California has pushed the state’s total past 200,000 with more than 5,800 deaths. (Kent Nishimura/Los Angeles Times)
LAPD officers E. Rosales, left, and D. Castro, patrol the Metro Red Line at the Hollywood/Highland Metro Station Thursday. (Allen J. Schaben/Los Angeles Times)
Visitors wear protective masks while walking through historic Olvera Street in downtown Los Angeles on Thursday. (Luis Sinco/Los Angeles Times)
People wait in line to have a COVID-19 screening administered by the Community Organized Relief Effort at the Los Angeles City Mayor’s test site at Dodger Stadium on Thursday. (Gary Coronado/Los Angeles Times)
A woman adjusts a protective mask while walkiing along Atlantic Avenue in Long Beach. (Luis Sinco/Los Angeles Ti mes)
Cameron Johnson,18, left, headed to UC Berkeley in the fall and Simona Krasnegor,17, headed to UCLA in the fall, watched the sun set while sitting next to the Manhattan Beach Pier, following their drive-through graduation from Mira Costa High School in Manhattan Beach. (Jay L. Clendenin/Los Angeles Times)
Jair Guido, 36, a veterinarian visiting from Durango, Mexico, right, wearing a sombrero with an American flag draped over his shoulders, walks with other pedestrians along Hollywood Boulevard in Hollywood. Guido said that he wore this outfit to show people that he is proud to be a Mexican and that he loves America. Gov. Gavin Newsom on Thursday ordered all Californians to wear face coverings while in public. (Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)
A mask-wearing skateboarder and her dog make their way along the boardwalk in Venice Beach. Californians must wear face masks in public under a coronavirus order issued by Gov. Gavin Newsom. (Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)
Pedestrians, some with face coverings, some without, walk past musicians Brent Kendell, background left, and Sam Jones, background right, as they perform at the intersection of Hollywood Boulevard and Highland Avenue in Hollywood. (Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)
People wear masks while walking along the boardwalk in Venice Beach. Californians must wear face masks in public under a coronavirus order issued by Gov. Gavin Newsom. (Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)
Pedestrians cross the intersection of Hollywood Boulevard and Highland Avenue in Hollywood. Gov. Gavin Newsom on Thursday ordered all Californians to wear face coverings while in public, following growing concerns that an increase in coronavirus cases has been caused by residents failing to voluntarily take that precaution. (Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)
Sophia Strauss, left, and Sarah Hoffmeister celebrate after their drive-through graduation from Mira Costa High School in Manhattan Beach. (Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)
New West Charter School vice principal Mark Herrera shouts at graduate Joe Reid to come and receive his diploma during a drive-up graduation ceremony for the Class of 2020 at the charter school in Los Angeles. (Genaro Molina/Los Angeles Times)
A worker directs drivers at a drive-up testing site for COVID-19 outside of Jackie Robinson Stadium at UCLA.
(Genaro Molina/Los Angeles Times)
Destiny VanSciner is tested for COVID-19 with an oral swab by family nurse practitioner Anniesatu Newland at a walk-in site at St. John’s Well Child and Family Center in South Los Angeles. (Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)
Melissa Gomes fixes the tassel on the mortarboard of Sarah Anggraini as the new graduate gets ready for a photo at Chaffey College, which held a drive-through graduation, in Rancho Cucamonga. (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)
Maricela Moreno, manager at El Tarasco in Marina del Rey, disinfects cash at the restaurant. (Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)
Mildred “Millie” Stratton waves to a caravan of cars led by Alhambra police officers and firefighters. The parade past her home celebrated Stratton’s 102nd birthday. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)
Eric Larkin hands an order to Brittany Wright as she fastens her face covering outside the Last Bookstore in downtown Los Angeles. (Dania Maxwell / Los Angeles Times)
A jogger passes Evergreen Cemetery in Los Angeles as local stay-at-home orders are increasingly relaxed months into the coronavirus outbreak. (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Hikers and bikers traverse the Santa Fe Dam trail as county parks officially reopen to the public. (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
A woman, masked against COVID-19, walks past a building that features the image of Britney Spears at a shopping center in the Fairfax District of Los Angeles. (Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)
Manon Guijarro, a new graduate of Pierce College, has her photo taken by friend Paige Johnson at Chris Burden’s outdoor work “Urban Light” at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art in Los Angeles. (Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)
Mary Perez, a salesperson at High Class Jewels on Broadway in downtown Los Angeles, helps a customer as he tries on a gold rope chain inside the recently reopened store. (Mel Melcon/Los Angeles Times)
Professional dog walker Lindsay Rojas takes golden retrievers Gomez, left, and Nikki for a stroll along Le Bourget Avenue in Culver City. (Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)
The Air Force Thunderbirds precision flying team banks over downtown Los Angeles in formation to salute healthcare workers and first responders on May 15. (Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)
Maria Morales, center, a member of the USC class of 2020, participates in virtual graduation via Zoom with her brother Manny Morales, left, mom Pilar Morales and stepdad Victor Ramos from her home in Orange. (Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)
On a recent day, there’s not a face mask in sight as a roller skater and others share the reopened walking path on the Strand in Manhattan Beach. (Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)
Crew members of a Hainan Airlines flight walk through the Tom Bradley International Terminal at Los Angeles International Airport. (Al Seib/Los Angeles Times)
A woman wearing a protective mask walks past a shuttered business in Long Beach. (Luis Sinco/Los Angeles Times)
Thousands of rental cars are stored at Dodger Stadium as the coronavirus crisis has caused rentals to nosedive. (Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times)
Some beachgoers actively use the beach while others relax on the sand, despite Gov. Gavin Newsom’s active-use-only order, in Huntington Beach. (Allen J. Schaben/Los Angeles Times)
Traveling nurse Gail Cunningham waves thanks outside the emergency room entrance to Riverside University Health System in Moreno Valley as residents pay tribute to her and other medical personnel with a drive-by rally. (Gina Ferazzi/Los Angeles Times)
A scene from “Knives Out,” with actor Don Johnson, seen at the Mission Tiki Drive-in Theatre in Montclair. Opened with one screen in 1956, the Mission Tiki expanded to four screens in 1975 and began renovation in 2006, updating to FM transmitters and digital projectors. (Jay L. Clendenin/Los Angeles Times)
The county has 29% of its intensive care unit beds and 58% of its ventilators available. Over the most recent 14-day period, the case rate per 100,000 residents is 90.2.
Officials reported one new death and 897 total fatalities Sunday. To date, 45,954 residents have tested positive for the virus, with 380 currently hospitalized and 111 in intensive care.
The county can be placed back on the watch list if it is flagged for any of the six metrics being monitored for at least three days in a row. It first fell below the state’s monitoring thresholds on Wednesday.
The decision to reopen schools falls to individual districts. County officials say 24 private elementary schools and one public school district serving kindergarten through sixth grade have been approved to reopen for in-person classes. About 100 other Orange County private and charter schools have applied for similar permission and are awaiting approval.
Schools must also have an option for online learning if parents do not want their children to go back to in-person classes. State public health officials and educators have offered the in-person option for elementary schools only, acknowledging that online learning for young children is particularly difficult and that they are generally seen as being at lesser risk of developing COVID-19 than older children and adults.
“Do I have fear and anxiety? Of course I do. Do we expect that there might be an outbreak? Of course,” Dr. Clayton Chau, director of the Orange County Health Care Agency, said last week. “But we have to do it. We know that this lockdown has caused emotional turmoil for some of our children, and we know that in-home learning is not the best education.”
Laguna Beach Mayor Bob Whalen said Saturday that he was encouraged by recent increases in mask usage, which he attributed to lowering the case rates.
“I think everybody wants this time to open up in a smart and intelligent way that keeps us open,” he said. “The last thing anybody wants is to have to roll back a second time because it’s devastating for our businesses.
Los Angeles County, meanwhile, remains on the state watch list.
Last week, Los Angeles County’s chief medical officer said new coronavirus cases may soon drop enough to allow officials to apply for waivers to reopen elementary schools. Dr. Jeffrey Gunzenhauser noted that waivers can be sought to reopen schools when cases fall below 200 for every 100,000 people for two weeks.
Over the last two weeks, officials have reported 27,739 new cases, which amounts to 275 per 100,000, but Gunzenhauser said that number was steadily dropping.
“We do believe we could get down to under 200 in the near future,” he said.
He said the length of average hospital stays for COVID-19 has declined from a few months ago, probably because of improved understanding of how to treat the disease. More young people are now being hospitalized for the disease, and they also are likely to recover more quickly than older patients.
But Gunzenhauser warned that younger people are dying from the disease, and the percentage of people ages 18 to 29 hospitalized for COVID-19 has doubled to 10%. Of the roughly 5,400 people in the county who have died of COVID-19, 440 were ages 18 to 41 with no underlying health conditions, he said.
The underlying conditions that make patients most at risk for severe illness and death are hypertension, which is common among those 65 and older, and diabetes, a condition that affects 10% of the county’s population, he said.
Times staff writer Colleen Shalby and Times Community News writer Andrew Turner contributed to this report.