Orange County's COVID-19 numbers are improving enough to move it up a level to the orange tier within a week if trends continue, officials said Monday.
The overall positivity rate is expected to go from 3.9% to 3.1% and the daily case count per 100,000 people is expected to drop from 4.7% to 3.6%, said Orange County CEO Frank Kim. The percentages could be up or down, but in that neighborhood, Kim said.
"I would expect we look orange tomorrow and that's week one," Kim said.
The county has to remain within that range for another week and then it can move up from the red to the orange tier, Kim said.
"There has been a steady but consistent decline in testing positivity rate," Kim said. "Things are looking good."
Considering the average incubation period of two weeks, if Labor Day gatherings were going to have an effect county officials would be seeing it by now, Kim said.
Kim believes the adherence countywide to facial coverings and other social distancing has helped stop the spread of coronavirus, Kim said.
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"It's a big week," Kim said. "If we miss it this week you have to wait another seven days."
Moving up to the orange tier means retail businesses can operate at full capacity, instead of 50% in the red tier. Shopping malls also can operate at full capacity, but with closed common areas and reduced food courts as it is the red tier.
The orange tier boosts capacity for churches, restaurants, movies, museums, zoos and aquariums from 25% capacity to half capacity. Gyms and fitness centers can boost capacity from 10% to 25% and reopen pools.
The orange tier also allows family entertainment centers like bowling alleys and wall climbing to open indoors to 25% capacity.
Orange County's schools are eligible to reopen for indoor, personal instruction, but not all of them will reopen right away.
It is up to school districts to decide and many are offering "hybrid models" of some in-person instruction and some online-only instruction, Kim said. Some school districts will allow parents to continue with distance learning only.
If there is a breakout at any of the schools then they would have to close for two weeks and have no more COVID-19 cases before reopening, said Dr. Clayton Chau, the county's Health Care Agency director and chief health officer.
Kim said the county is committed to providing mobile testing and contact tracing for the schools.
"The county is working with schools and where we have resources and capacity we will help them,'' Kim said.
It is important for the public to understand that the county does not determine whether schools reopen or not, Kim said.
"We are simply consulting, to allow it to occur, but our expectation is schools will continue to meet with labor, nurses and their physicians and parents, so it is being done in a way that is totally transparent," Kim said. "We've learned our lessons from Memorial Day, and Labor Day is much better than Memorial Day."
Orange County on Monday reported 138 newly diagnosed coronavirus cases, raising the cumulative total to 52,201, but the number of deaths was unchanged at 1,128.
Last week, the county reported 34 fatalities, down from 42 the week prior. Since Sunday, only one fatality has been reported.
Hospitalizations in the county dropped from 194 Sunday to 178 Monday, with the number of patients in intensive care going from 65 to 64, according to the Orange County Health Care Agency.
The OCHCA reported that 798,188 COVID-19 tests have been conducted, including 4,485 reported Monday. There have been 46,948 documented recoveries.
Since the pandemic began, 423 skilled-nursing facility residents and 77 assisted-living facility residents in Orange County have succumbed to the coronavirus.
The county has 65% of its ventilators available and 35% of its intensive care unit beds. The change in three-day average hospitalized patients is -4.5%.
The county's daily case count per 100,000 people fell from 5.2 last week to 4.7, and the seven-day rate of residents testing positive for the coronavirus dropped from 4.2% last week to 3.9%.
To move up from the second-most restrictive red tier to the orange tier in the state's four-tier monitoring system, the county must have a daily new case rate per 100,000 of 1 to 3.9 and a positivity rate of 2 to 4.9%.