Orange County was removed from the state’s coronavirus watchlist Sunday, even though virus data discrepancies between the state and the county Health Care Agency have been lingering for weeks. 


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Counties are put on the watchlist for worsening virus trends, like more than 100 new cases per 100,000 residents over a 14-day period, a testing positivity greater than 8 percent during a seven-day period, or increasing hospitalization rates. 

According to county and state data, OC meets the thresholds for hospitals and testing positivity rates, but there’s a discrepancy between the number of cases per 100,000 people. 

As of Sunday, county data shows 90.2 cases per 100,000 residents, while state data shows double that number. 

County Health Care Agency officials referred Voice of OC to the state when reached for comment about which data set would be used to determine the watchlist removal. 

At a Friday news conference, Gov. Gavin Newsom said the data would be sorted out by state and local health officials. 

“We handle it the way we’ve always handled it. We work with local health officials, we reconcile any of the discrepancies. We’ve done that consistently since the beginning of this pandemic,” Newsom said. “We continue to work very collaboratively with local health officers in Orange County. And we look forward to making an announcement updating that monitoring list.” 

When OC was put in the watchlist in late June, numerous businesses were shut down. State health officials closed all bars and indoor operations at restaurants, movie theaters, malls, hair salons and nail salons. Although some businesses, like restaurants, have been able to operate outside. 

Now that the county is off the watchlist, more businesses could reopen.

But that depends on decisions from state health officials. 

And schools can begin reopening classrooms if the county stays off the watchlist for 14 days. 

Meanwhile, state guidelines said the three-day lag will account for delays in tests. 

“A case rate calculated on April 1st would correspond to cases occurring from March 15th – March 28th. Although case rates are often calculated using the date they were reported to the health department, this measure uses the episode date. The episode date is the earliest of several dates and corresponds to the earliest date that the case can be known to have had the infection,” reads the guidelines. 

But it’s unclear if episode date means the day the test result was discovered, or the date when the test specimen was collected. The OC Health Care Agency tallies the cases by when the specimen was collected. 

Some residents said the county Health Care Agency stopped using a three-day lag to calculate its cases per 100,000 residents, and instead switched to a two-day lag time.

A quick analysis by Voice of OC shows 104.6 cases per 100,000 residents, using a three-day lag as of Sunday. 

But using a two day lag, the case count was nearly 94.  

Even with the three-day lag, some tests might not fall into the reporting window, which would lower the test rate. 

Numerous residents have emailed and called Voice of OC and said it’s taken over a week to get their test results. 

State health officials are expected to announce updated statewide reopening guidelines — potentially changing the metrics counties are put on the watchlist — sometime this week.  

Spencer Custodio is a Voice of OC staff reporter. You can reach him at scustodio@voiceofoc.org. Follow him on Twitter @SpencerCustodio

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