Wednesday is "the magic day,'' according to Orange County Supervisor Doug Chaffee -- the day the county will officially ease restrictions on businesses after qualifying for the orange tier of the state's program to reopen the economy during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Orange County officially qualified for the orange tier on Tuesday, when the state announced its weekly update on coronavirus data. But the eased restrictions go into effect Wednesday in the OC.
"We are orange, but it's the next day that it kicks in,'' Chaffee said Tuesday. "It sounds like a bit of sunshine. It's great to get out there and get onto the next tier. My goodness, keep up the good work. We don't want to stop at orange.''
Supervisor Lisa Bartlett said, "I'm just thrilled we're moving into the orange tier because it really opens up our local economy and it means we're able to balance the economy with the local public health. It's just so exciting for Orange County businesses and residents.''
Supervisor Katrina Foley said it was "hopeful news and well received by our business community as well as our residents because many people are anxious to get back to some semblance of normalcy. We still have to be very careful and wear our masks and be diligent about social distancing ... Baseball starts Thursday. And I'm looking forward to fun at the fair this summer.''
The latest weekly update from the state, issued on Tuesdays, showed the county's test positivity rate improved from 2.1% to 1.7%, and the adjusted case rate per 100,000 people on a seven-day average with a seven-day lag improved from 3.5 last Tuesday to 2.8.
The county's Health Equity Quartile rate, which measures positivity in hotspots in disadvantaged communities, improved from 3.2% last week to 2.6%.
Moving up to the orange tier allows for more business to reopen.
Retail stores will not have to limit attendance at all, and churches, movie theaters, museums, zoos and aquariums can expand attendance from 25% to 50% of capacity.
Restaurants can expand indoor dining to 50%, wineries can offer indoor service at 25%, and bars that don't serve food can reopen outdoors for the first time.
Gyms and fitness centers can expand to 25% of capacity, and family entertainment centers can offer indoor attractions such as bowling.
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Bartlett said the new rules will be "huge for the bars,'' but added that it's not clear how long it may take to move up to the next level.
"People ask me, `Oh, we got three so quickly, are we going to the yellow tier next week?' Probably not,'' she said. "The yellow tier means we've pretty much eradicated COVID.''
The case rates have to dip under one per 100,000 to make it to the yellow tier, but the county has qualified for the yellow tier in positivity rates for the last week, Orange County CEO Frank Kim said.
But the state is nearing its goal of 4 million inoculations of underprivileged people with the number now at 3.4 million.
"That will help us keep in the orange tier in the event we have a little bit of a blip or uptick in cases per 100,000,'' Bartlett said.
Wil Dee, owner of Haven Kitchen, Provisions Deli and Chapman Crafted Beer in Orange, said it was "exciting news'' for the food service industry.
But it will take time for some customers to return to indoor dining, Dee said.
"There's still a lack of consumer confidence that is challenging -- people want to sit outside,'' especially when "the weather is nice,'' Dee said.
But the expanded capacity for indoor dining "will be helpful,'' he added.
Graduating to the orange tier "is a bigger advantage for breweries,'' because they no longer have to just serve customers with reservations and can welcome back indoor business, Dee said.
"This gets things back to more of a normal business'' for breweries, Dee said.
Dee said it has been a tough year, particularly considering how some of his competitors have disregarded the rules, but he added that his employees and some of his customers have appreciated how his businesses followed the rules.
California COVID-19 Vaccinations
The map tracks the number of doses administered by a recipient's county of residence according to the The California Department of Public Health.
"They like the fact we're backing them so they're safe and that's the
point,'' Dee said of his employees.
"On the flip side, the customer base feels comfortable being here because they can be here and be safe and not be worried about maybe contracting (coronavirus).''
The county received an additional 44,000 doses of vaccines this week, Bartlett said. That brings the county's total to 115,000 this week. Federal allocation to the pharmacies has also risen, Kim said.
The infusion of vaccines will help the county go beyond the planned 2,000 doses a day when the new super POD site opens at the Orange County Fairgrounds in Costa Mesa on Wednesday, Kim said. County officials plan to open the new vaccine distribution site at 8 a.m. Wednesday and hold a news conference at noon.
The county reported 106 new coronavirus cases and 14 additional deaths on Tuesday. The cumulative case count is 250,537 and the death toll is 4,740.
All of the deaths logged Tuesday occurred in March, upping the death toll for this month to 105.
The death toll for February is 544. The death toll for January, the deadliest by far during the pandemic, is at 1,460, and it is 920 for December, the next deadliest month. The December and January death tolls reflect a holiday-fueled surge.
Hospitalizations fell from 145 Monday to 143, with the number of COVID patients in intensive care units decreasing from 29 to 26, according to the Orange County Health Care Agency. It's not clear when ICU numbers have been this low, as the county's website dates back to late May and there is no data since then lower than 36 patients.
The OCHCA also reported 7,248 COVID-19 tests Tuesday, raising the cumulative total to 3,332,327. The county has 35.7% of its ICU bed space available, and 73% of its ventilators.