While much of California continues to faces mass closures over the pandemic, Orange County remains in a less restrictive stage of the state’s reopening plan than most of Southern California.
On Thursday, the county’s health department recorded another four deaths of COVID-19 patients and 140 more cases. In total, 51,399 cases of the virus have been reported and 1,115 patients have died.
Currently, O.C. remains in the red tier of California’s reopening plan, which allows more non-essential businesses to reopen indoors than the purple tier that Los Angeles, Ventura, Riverside and San Bernardino counties are in. San Diego County is the only other one in SoCal that’s in the red tier.
Indoor operations of restaurants, movie theaters and houses of worship were allowed to resume earlier this month once O.C. entered the red tier — although with some capacity restrictions and other health requirements depending on the industry. The state’s color-coded tier system is primarily based on testing positivity rates and average daily case rates.
Dr. Clayton Chau, the county’s public health officer, said O.C. has seen a testing positivity rate that continues to decline, bringing Orange County closer to reaching the orange tier.
“We’re beginning to see that numbers are trending down to the orange (tier) here, especially the positivity rate,” Chau said.
No other Southern California county has reached the data levels necessary to be in the orange tier or the least restrictive yellow tier. Less restrictive levels allow more non-essential businesses to reopen.
Last month, dozens of school campuses reopened after the county managed to get case rates low enough, and schools can still apply for waivers to provide in-person instruction.
Chau said he has been working with school administrators to ensure students are safe and have access to medical care. Pediatricians at UC Irvine and Children’s Hospital of Orange County are helping with those efforts at K-12 schools after signing a contract with the county, Chau said.
For now, the health department does not report cases that surface at individual campuses. Chau said it’s unclear whether the agency will do that in the future, either.
“At least for the K-12 (campuses), the school district is responsible for informing parents in the school, should there be a staff or student tested positive,” Chau said.
Institutions of higher education will also be self-reporting any potential coronavirus outbreaks. Chau said health officials will not be reporting cases at individual campuses but they have worked with Chapman University, UC Irvine and Cal State Fullerton on all their reopening plans.
Correction: A previous version of this story gave an incorrect color for Orange County’s current reopening stage. The county remains in the red tier of the state’s color-coded system, just below the most restrictive purple tier. The post has been updated.