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O.C. inches closer to red tier in state reopening guidelines

Orange County
Orange County chief executive officer Frank Kim provides an update to county residents on March 3.
(Screenshot by Lilly Nguyen)

The red tier in the state reopening guidelines during the coronavirus pandemic, an improvement to the current purple tier, may soon be within reach, according to Orange County chief executive officer Frank Kim, who spoke in a countywide update hosted by several chambers of commerce.

The webinar held Wednesday morning began with discussion of issues on homelessness in Orange County before transitioning into talk as to where Orange County stood in relationship to the ongoing pandemic. Californians have passed the one-year mark since the first stay-at-home order was issued last year.

The event was sponsored by the Newport Beach, Irvine, Costa Mesa, Santa Ana chambers of commerce and the South Coast Metro Alliance.

Kim said the data was looking better as compared to previous months when cases skyrocketed past old records alongside the rest of Southern California. The Orange County Health Care Agency now reports that the new, adjusted daily case rate shows 7.6 cases for every 100,000 residents, putting the county possibly within reach of the next tier, which requires cases to fall below 7.

Also required to reach the more relaxed tier is for both the test positivity and the health equity quartile positivity rates to drop below 8%. As of Wednesday, those numbers are at 3.9% and 5% respectively, placing them within the range.

“We’re very close to that red tier,” said Kim. “We’re dropping at around half a point a day, although there’s been a bit of a plateau over the last few days. But that number is trending toward red and I would expect that we will see red tier next week when the state updates their weekly numbers ... We’ll have to see what it looks like.

“It’s not a promise. I don’t have a crystal ball, but if you look at the current trends, it’s likely that we’ll below 7 by this upcoming Sunday,” said Kim, adding that falling into the parameters for the tier does not automatically place Orange County in that tier.

Newport Beach Chamber of Commerce president Steve Rosansky and Orange County chief executive officer Frank Kim.
Newport Beach Chamber of Commerce president Steve Rosansky, right, asks Orange County chief executive officer Frank Kim, left, a question.
(Screenshot by Lilly Nguyen)

Numbers must remain constant for two weeks before a county is able to qualify to move into the next tier, making it a three-week process.

County health officials said Wednesday there were 160 new cases and 14 new deaths. About 403 cases are currently hospitalized and 107 are in intensive care units. An estimated 234,002 have recovered.

Orange County initially transitioned to the red tier in September before it was relegated back to the purple — also known as the first — tier in November in an effort from state officials to curb the spread of COVID-19 as case rates and hospitalizations climbed.

If the county is able to transition to the red tier, that means indoor dining and movie theaters can reopen at 25% capacity or up to 100 people, depending on whichever number is fewer. It also means that gyms, dance and yoga studios would be allowed to reopen at 10% capacity. Museums, zoos and aquariums could open indoor activities at 25% capacity. It also expands retail and library capacities to 50%.

Kim also discussed vaccine roll-outs in Orange County, which he said he felt is running better now than it was initially.

County health officials update totals of those vaccinated every Thursday. According to data last updated on Feb. 25, a total of 426,649 residents had been vaccinated and county officials opened up vaccinations to those working in education, food service, grocery, agriculture workers and childcare providers on Monday.

Questions from those watching the hour-long webinar varied from the de-funding the police movement, clarification on the tiers, if Johnson and Johnson vaccine would appear in Orange County, whether or not residents will be able to choose between vaccines and the rules on self-quarantining in relation to travel.

Those interested can view the webinar at youtu.be/T7vO0SpMY2s.

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