Orange County to reopen more businesses beginning Sunday

ORANGE, CA - MARCH 09: Customers dine outside near the Orange Circle on Glassell Street and Chapman Avenue in Orange, CA on Tuesday, March 9, 2021.(Photo by Paul Bersebach/MediaNews Group/Orange County Register via Getty Images)

Orange County will enter the less-restrictive red tier of the state's coronavirus regulatory system on Sunday, allowing for bigger crowds in retail stores and the reopening of museums, movie theaters and indoor dining at restaurants.

"We expected it -- it's almost anti-climactic at this point, but it's a step forward. It gives people the relief they've been waiting for,'' Supervisor Doug Chaffee said.

"The governor is finally changing his rules in favor of getting us back to some form of normal,'' Supervisor Don Wagner said. "Good for him. And good for the people of Orange County who have been following safety protocols and getting the vaccine to protect themselves, their friends, and family.''

The county had been preparing to move from the most-restrictive purple tier to the red tier by next Wednesday, but the timetable was moved up when the state met its goal of inoculating two million Californians in underprivileged communities where coronavirus has spread more widely.

Meanwhile, the rate of new cases and hospitalizations continued their general decline on Saturday. The Orange County Health Care Authority reported 172 new COVID-19 cases for the second consecutive day, raising the cumulative
total to 248,561.

The county also reported 26 more COVID-19 fatalities, raising the death toll to 4,434 since the pandemic began. Death reports are often delayed for a variety of reasons.

Of the deaths reported Saturday, five were skilled nursing facility residents, raising the death toll among that group to 1,022. The OCHCA reported 237 COVID-19 patients in county hospitals, down from 245 on Friday, and 71 in intensive care, down from 74. The county has 31.4% of its ICU bed space available, and 68% of its ventilators.

RELATED: LA County moving to 'Red Tier' Monday, allowing indoor dining, gyms, movie theaters to reopen

The county also reported 10,221 tests, raising the cumulative total to 3,171,822. There have been 238,961 documented recoveries.

On Tuesday, when the state updated its weekly numbers in the tiers network, the county's test positivity rate improved to 3.2% from 3.9%, and the adjusted case rate per 100,000 people on a seven-day average with a seven-day lag improved from 7.6 to 6. The county's Health Equity Quartile rate, which measures positivity in hotspots in disadvantaged communities, improved from 4.9% last week to 4.1%.

Under the previous standards, the county was in the red tier with case rates per 100,000 and in the orange tier for the positivity rates. 

Orange County CEO Frank Kim said the county's case rate was at 4.8 per 100,000 on Friday and the positivity rate was at 2.6%. The positivity rate
for the Health Equity Quartile was at 3.7%, Kim said, adding that he was
"excited'' about moving up to the red tier.

But Kim cautioned residents to keep their guard up.

"People should be careful and I think most people in Orange County are smart enough to assess their level of comfort and safety,'' he said. "For me, I intend to go visit my mom and have a meal with her, which will be great.''

The red tier allows for many more businesses and organizations to reopen. For instance, retail stores can allow for half capacity instead of 25%, and museums, zoos and aquariums can reopen for indoor activities at 25% capacity, as can movie theaters, gyms and restaurants.

RELATED: California loosens restrictions on breweries, wineries

Wineries, breweries and distilleries can reopen for outdoor business only.

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