Orange County could be eligible to move into yellow tier this week

Health officials say Orange County could be eligible to move into the yellow tier by Wednesday. Yellow is the least restrictive of the state's re-opening system.

Orange County reported 52 new cases of COVID-19 and one additional death on Sunday.

The number of coronavirus patients in county hospitals rose from 80 on Saturday to 82, while the number of those patients in intensive care decreased from 25 to 23, according to the Orange County Health Care Agency.

The county had 34% of its ICU beds and 75% of its ventilators available.

Sunday's number brought the county's totals to 254,744 cases and 5,031 fatalities since the pandemic began. The county logged another 7,227 tests for a total of 3,803,939.

RELATED: Los Angeles County moves into California's least restrictive yellow tier

Orange County continues to be on track to make it to the least-restrictive yellow tier of the state's economic reopening system if current trends hold up, Orange County CEO Frank Kim said late last week. OC could become eligible to move up as soon as Wednesday.

This weekend, the county began administering the Pfizer vaccine to residents 12 to 15, Kim said. The good news accompanies an announcement from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control on Thursday that vaccinated Americans can ditch their face-coverings in most cases. Kim, however, said it does not apply yet in California. "We're still bound by Cal OSHA," Kim told City News Service. 

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"In the CDC guidance, it does say more restrictive requirements are to be followed. And in California Cal OSHA still indicates you must wear a mask in places of work."

County officials are anticipating the state will issue new guidance later this month, Kim said. 

"The state can put in something that's more restrictive" than the federal government, Orange County Supervisor Lisa Bartlett said.  

Based on Gov. Gavin Newsom's comments on the topic last week, the state is expected to continue to require face coverings for "large-scale events and activities," Bartlett said. 

Andrew Noymer, a UC Irvine professor of population health and disease prevention, said it was a good idea to relax the mask mandates.

"I think what the CDC announced makes sense," Noymer said. "In a platonic, ideal world, we would all keep masking because at the margins, some vaccinated people, not everyone, can get it, et cetera, but Americans aren't going to mask continuously for 36 months. You can forget about it. It's just not going to happen. We need to give ourselves the summer off with masking because we may need to do it again in the fall. I think that's just the reality."

According to the weekly state data released every Tuesday, the average for the county's daily case rate per 100,000 people improved from 2.4 last Tuesday to 1.8 last week. The overall test positivity rate improved from 1.3% to 1%, and the county's Health Equity Quartile rate, which measures positivity in hot spots in disadvantaged communities, declined from 1.4% to 1.2%.

Graduating to the yellow tier allows for greater attendance for many businesses such as movie theaters and gyms, while museums, zoos and aquariums can open up at 100% of capacity and for the first time bars and distilleries can open indoors.