Orange County’s young athletes likely won’t be able play games soon as youth sports have been put on hold after updated coronavirus guidance from state health officials was circulated by the county earlier this week.

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“Outdoor and indoor sporting events, assemblies, and other activities that require close contact or that would promote congregating are not permitted at this time. For example, tournaments, events, or competitions, regardless of whether teams are from the same school or from different schools, counties, or states are not permitted at this time,” reads guidelines from the state Department of Public Health released Monday. 

The guidelines call for outdoor sports where athletes can keep six-feet away from each other. And for the activities to take place with people who’ve already been around each other to limit transmission. 

“Youth sports and physical education are permitted only when the following can be maintained: (1) physical distancing of at least six feet; and (2) a stable cohort, such as a class, that limits the risks of transmission (see CDC Guidance on Schools and Cohorting). Activities should take place outside to the maximum extent practicable,” reads the guidelines. 

It’s unclear how Orange County’s myriad youth sports organizations are implementing that kind of guidance. 

Although virus case rates and hospitalizations in Orange County, along with many other parts of the state have dropped in recent days, officials are trying to avoid a repeat of the surge that came from reopening too many businesses and activities too soon a couple months ago. 

“As we began to modify our stay at home order, people began to mix, people began to put down, in some cases, put down their masks literally not just figuratively, we started to see that case rate grow we started to see the background rates grow, community spread grow. So let’s not relive that experience again,” Gov. Gavin Newsom said at a Monday news conference. 

There’s been an issue with the state’s reporting system, called CalREDIE, that’s created a backlog of cases affecting positivity rates not just in OC, but across the state. 

“There is a specific component that feeds information from labs,” said Dr. Mark Ghaly, secretary of California Health and Human Services department, at a Tuesday news conference. 

“That may actually be the place where data is getting stuck. We are working on that currently,” Ghaly said in response to an Associated Press reporter’s question. 

“The seven-day positivity rate is absolutely affected by this and as we continue to update the information, we will certainly be updating the positivity rate as we do,” Ghaly said, adding state health officials are manually having to sort through the testing results. 

Dr. Bernadette Boden-Albala, founding dean of UC Irvine’s public health program, said the best bet is to look at long term testing trends. 

“I never look at the number of tests per day being performed. I really try to look at the total. The total number of positive over the total number of tests,” Boden-Albala said in a Tuesday phone interview. 

“It seems to me we’ve gotten a greater lag time and I’m not sure why that is,” she said. “So I never use actual numbers of the day. I go back and look at what’s come in over the number of days.” 

Since March, the virus has killed 665 people out of 38,131 confirmed cases, according to the OC Health Care 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 over the course of a full year.

As of Wednesday, there’s also 536 people hospitalized with Covid, including 172 in intensive care units.  

Nearly 445,000 tests have been conducted throughout the county, which is home to roughly 3.2 million people. 

The county Office of Emergency Services has noted the issue with case reporting data and believes the numbers are artificially low, according to Wednesday’s daily situation report.

“The state disease reporting system is experiencing some problems that are affecting the timely reporting to local health departments. We do not know the extent of it but believe that recent data are artificially low. This makes it difficult to know critical data points such as disease transmission rate, positivity rate, etc. The state is working on resolving the problem, but currently the status in Orange County (and other counties) is unclear,” reads the report.  

UCI epidemiologist Andrew Noymer said data reporting, like case counts, can often get muddled during pandemics. 

“It’s kind of a nothingburger in a sense,” Noymer said in a Tuesday phone interview. “This is the kind of foggy situation that will come up in a pandemic where data are just ambiguous.”

“So what your readers should do is conceive of it in the terms of the total number of deaths and look at the total and see how it’s growing. And at the current rate, we’ll hit 1,000 deaths before Sept. 1,” Noymer said. “Hanging your hat on the daily numbers is not the way to go.” 

Boden-Albala said, based on the long term trends, it looks like the case positivity and hospitalization trends are plateauing, but warned that could change if too many businesses reopen and large activities resume. 

“I believe that things like restaurants and only eating outside, really pulling back a little bit, has resulted in some real significant slowing of the transmission of COVID. And that’s evidenced by an average three to five day positive cases over total tested now about nine percent, when the number was up to 13, 14 (during the spikes in June and early July). Certainly not as good as the four percent we saw in April and May.” 

Here’s the latest on the virus numbers across Orange County from county data:

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

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