Orange County health officials focus on staying in the red tier as COVID-19 counts climb

A woman visits South Coast Plaza in Costa Mesa on Friday.
(Raul Roa / Times Community News)

Orange County officials have for weeks strived to advance through the state’s color-coded reopening system — which ties reductions in new coronavirus cases and positivity rates to eased restrictions — from the red tier, or “substantial” risk, to the orange, or “moderate” risk, and one step closer to economic recovery.

But as the county entered its 60th day in the red tier Friday, and with the number of new infections and COVID-19 hospitalizations continuing to rise, civic focus has shifted to keeping the county from sliding back into the most restrictive tier, purple, or “widespread” risk, and the additional closures that would come with that classification.

Michelle Steel, chairwoman of the Orange County Board of Supervisors, recently acknowledged the importance of keeping the county from following the lead of neighboring Imperial and San Diego, which were booted back to purple earlier this week.

“While Orange County remains firmly in the red tier, it is important that we continue this trend,” Steel said in a media briefing Thursday. “We have made a lot of progress as a county and continue to have stable numbers, and I am hopeful we can continue to do so.”


People wear masks and face shields while walking at Costa Mesa's South Coast Plaza on Friday.
Visitors to Costa Mesa’s South Coast Plaza on Friday.
(Raul Roa / Times Community News)

With the holidays and the lure of social gatherings approaching, and as COVID-19 fatigue begins to take hold eight months into the pandemic, Orange County Health Care Agency Medical Director Matt Zahn urged residents to remain vigilant.

“We’re all aware the holiday season is rapidly coming upon us,” he said. “We all think of family gatherings, social gatherings, work gatherings. Unfortunately, you just have to think about those sorts of events differently, because there really is a risk there.”

Even as Orange County COVID-19 cases rise, middle and high schools hope to provide students some normalcy. Newport-Mesa Unified, where 22 cases have been confirmed, will reopen secondary schools Monday.

The agency on Friday recorded 309 new cases of coronavirus and nine deaths, bringing Orange County’s cumulative case count to 61,421 and its fatality rate to 1,503. Area hospitals reported that they were treating 177 individuals for COVID-19, including 72 in intensive care units.

The county’s seven-day average of new cases rose this week to six per 100,000 residents, while the average health equity quartile positivity rate decreased slightly, to 5.7%.

Those figures would need to drop to 3.9 and 5.2%, respectively, for Orange County to be able to reopen more business sectors. But should new cases increase to seven per 100,000, the county could be subject to even greater restrictions.

Here are the latest cumulative coronavirus case counts and COVID-19 deaths for select cities in Orange County:

  • Santa Ana: 11,803 cases; 319 deaths
  • Anaheim: 10,492 cases; 326 deaths
  • Huntington Beach: 2,695 cases; 86 deaths
  • Costa Mesa: 2,099 cases; 45 deaths
  • Irvine: 1,999 cases; 14 deaths
  • Newport Beach: 1,276 cases; 26 deaths
  • Fountain Valley: 600 cases; 20 deaths
  • Laguna Beach: 258 cases; fewer than five deaths

Here are the county’s counts by age group:

  • 0 to 17: 4,602 cases; one death
  • 18 to 24: 9,209 cases; five deaths
  • 25 to 34: 13,163 cases; 21 deaths
  • 35 to 44: 9,758 cases; 38 deaths
  • 45 to 54: 9,896 cases; 117 deaths
  • 55 to 64: 7,391 cases; 207 deaths
  • 65 to 74: 3,729 cases; 297 deaths
  • 75 to 84: 2,041 cases; 326 deaths
  • 85 and older: 1,585 cases; 491 deaths

Cardine writes for Times Community News.