Orange County is continuing to see hospitalizations and other coronavirus trends improve, which local health officials attribute partly to more people wearing face coverings, as school reopenings remain in a holding pattern for the time being.
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The latest data showed 414 coronavirus patients in Orange County hospitals, amid weeks of declining from a peak of 722 patients in mid July.
“Based on current available data, Orange County is seeing improved metrics according to State monitoring data,” wrote OC Health Care Agency officials in their daily status update Monday afternoon.
At a news conference last week, the county’s top public health official attributed the improving trends to a “huge effort” – including by faith-based groups – to encourage people to wear face coverings and physically distance, among other non-medical ways to reduce the virus’ spread.
“I think more and more folks are taking face coverings seriously right now,” said Lucy Dunn, president and CEO of the Orange County Business Council, told Voice of OC on Monday.
“When we take the masks seriously – the face coverings seriously – the protocols seriously…we see the numbers start to come down,” she added. “It’s working, folks,” she said, encouraging people to “keep it up.”
“I think that with more and more folks realizing that face coverings have helped other countries open up, this will help Orange County as well,” Dunn said.
Meanwhile, over 50 elementary schools have applied for waivers to re-open, though the process is currently on hold by the state on the heels of a major backlog in report test results.
The county health officer, Dr. Clayton Chau, told Voice of OC via email Monday that he has not forwarded waiver requests to the state because the state’s website “still indicates ‘at this time, movement of counties on or off the list will be on hold until further notice.’ ”
In the meantime, Chau says he’s reviewing the requests and has finished reviewing 10 of them.
State guidelines call for an agreement between school districts, school administrators, community groups, parents, teachers, local health officers — like Chau — and state health officials before any school can bring students back in person.
As of Monday, a large majority of the schools requesting to reopen are private religious schools, as well as some non-religious private schools. The only traditional public schools requesting to re-open appeared to be those in Los Alamitos Unified School District.
For middle and high schools, Orange County would have to be off the state’s watch list of counties with elevated virus spread for 14 days. As of Monday, OC was not yet off the watch list, though has been inching closer and closer to meeting the thresholds to be off the list.
Chau says he remains optimistic about Orange County being taken off the monitoring list.
“The only measure that still keeps us on the State’s monitoring list is the case rate per 100K [residents],” Chau told Voice of OC on Monday in response to an emailed question.
“We are currently at 117.9. We continue to see a trending down of this measure.”
If schools are allowed to re-open, they’ll have to follow rules like physical distancing for reopened classrooms and mandate masks for students in third grade and higher. And there’s requirements that testing be available if an outbreak is discovered in a classroom, to help isolate the virus and prevent it from spreading.
Coronavirus has killed 810 Orange County residents in the five months since the first death in March, out of 43,925 known cases, according to the county Health Care Agency. Hospitals reported 132 patients currently in Orange County intensive care units as of Monday, according to the agency.
For context, Orange County has averaged around 20,000 deaths a year since 2016, according to state health data. According to those same statistics, the flu kills about 543 people per year in OC.
Here’s the latest on the virus numbers across Orange County from county data:
Nick Gerda covers county government for Voice of OC. You can contact him at email@example.com.