Orange County health officials reported another 24 coronavirus-related deaths Friday, along with 313 new confirmed cases, but the county still appears on track to reach the next level of the state's tiered economic-recovery roadmap.
The new deaths increased the county's overall fatalities to 1,042, while a total of 49,258 cases have been confirmed in the county since the pandemic began.
Of the deaths reported Friday, seven were skilled nursing facility residents, according to the Orange County Health Care Agency.
Since the pandemic began, COVID-19 has claimed the lives of 391 skilled nursing facility residents and 70 assisted living facility residents.
Hospitalizations in the county, however, continued dropping, falling to 264 as of Friday, down from 272 on Thursday. The number of people in intensive care fell to 77, down from 79 on Thursday.
The county now meets all of the state's metrics to move up to the state's red tier, up from purple, the worst level. The state unveiled the four- tier economic-recovery roadmap last week. Individual counties must meet state standards for new cases per 100,000 residents and testing-positivity rates, both over a seven-day average, to move up the ladder of tiers.
But even with the positive trends, the earliest that Orange County's schools can reopen for personal instruction is Sept. 22. County officials had argued for credit for time spent off the state's coronavirus watch list before the state switched to the tier system, changing the way it evaluated progress against curbing the spread of coronavirus. But county officials were told the state did not want to establish a precedent.
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"We were quite frustrated … we weren't able to open schools Sept. 8 because we met the (state's) criteria," Orange County CEO Frank Kim told reporters at the county's news conference on COVID-19 earlier this week.
"We would have liked to have been provided credit for those days where we were meeting" the state's criteria to get off the watch list, Kim said.
Kim did, however, praise the state's new tiered system, because it is "easy to understand."
Orange County Supervisor Don Wagner held a news conference Friday to announce a "nonpartisan reopen coalition" to push for a faster restart of the local economy. He criticized Gov. Gavin Newsom in a news release for ignoring "local leaders as he shifts from one COVID shutdown strategy to another without explanation." Newport Beach Mayor Will O'Neill and Lake Forest City Councilman Dwight Robinson were among those in attendance.
Dr. Margaret Bredehoft, director of the Health Care Agency's Public Health Services, said this week the county has received 130 applications for waivers from schools to reopen K-6th grade classes for personal instruction. The county has approved 119, and the state has approved 98 of those so far, Bredehoft said.
All of them are private or secular schools except for the ones in the Los Alamitos School District.
If schools are allowed to reopen from kindergarten through high school on Sept. 22 it will be left up to each school district whether to do so.
The rate of county residents testing positive for COVID-19 was at 5% as of Friday, which is below the state's desired threshold of 8%.
The county's new case rate per 100,000 residents over seven days is 5.6. To move to the next tier, the county has to be between 4 and 7.
The OCHCA reported that 683,364 COVID-19 tests have been conducted, including 7,555 reported Friday. There have been 43,005 documented recoveries.