All Orange County schools could reopen for in-person classes sometime after Sept. 6 if coronavirus cases and hospitalizations remain below levels required by the state, health officials said Thursday.
On Sunday, the region took its biggest step yet toward getting rates of infection down and inching closer to reopening indoor businesses and other public places. The county was removed from California’s list of counties being monitored for troubling rates of infection and deaths.
The O.C. Health Care Agency reported another 369 cases of the virus and 29 deaths Thursday, bringing the total number of positive cases to 47,459 with 947 deaths of COVID-19 patients.
No other county in Southern California, aside from San Diego, has managed to get off the watchlist after first holding an average 14-day case rate of less than 100 cases per 100,000 people.
If it stays off the monitoring list for 14 consecutive days, Orange County will be able to reopen all schools for in-person instruction to K-8 students, according to health officials.
Dr. Clayton Chau, the county’s newly named health officer, said that means all schools could see a reopening date sometime after Sept. 6.
However, he said any students with health conditions, or who are otherwise at increased risk if they contract the virus, will be able to continue online courses. The state requires that schools give students such options amid the pandemic.
Dozens of Orange County schools got the green light last week to start on-campus classes after the county managed to hold an average case rate of less than 200 cases per 100,000 people — the level required by the state for schools to receive waivers for in-classroom instruction.
Meanwhile, Chau has taken on the position of public health officer several weeks after the sudden resignation of his predecessor, who faced death threats over a mask order.
Chau is also the director of the Orange County Health Care Agency, a position that’s historically been separate position from his new role. As the county’s health officer, he has related policymaking powers that supersede those of the county’s Board of Supervisors.
He has been acting as the county’s health officer on an interim basis since June, following the public resignation of Dr. Nichole Quick. The previous health officer issued a public order that legally mandated — not just recommended — the wearing of facial coverings in public spaces to curb the spread of coronavirus.
An Orange County resident opposed to the order threatened Quick’s life during a public meeting in late May, when some elected county officials also expressed opposition to the mask requirement.
Once Quick quit, the county lifted the mask mandate. Rates of infection surged in the weeks after, reflecting a trend seen on a statewide level, before declining in more recent weeks.