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Orange County has moved back to the most restrictive tier of the state’s business reopening system as the second Coronavirus wave is hitting the county and increasingly sending more people to hospital beds.
OC now sits in the Purple Tier, the most restrictive level.
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That means an end to indoor operations at restaurants, gyms, places of worship and movie theaters, while further limiting indoor operations in the rest of the businesses. Most college classes — except lab classes — will also be moved back to video conferences.
Elementary, junior high and high schools that have already reopened won’t be affected by OC’s move back to the Purple Tier.
“We are seeing community spread, broadly, now throughout the state of California,” Gov. Gavin Newsom said at a Monday news conference.
State public health officials removed a two-week wait period before counties either advance or fall back in the tiering system because of the rapid spread of virus cases across the state.
All of Southern California’s counties now sit in the Purple Tier.
The cases are spiking so fast, Newsom said they’re entertaining the idea of a potential statewide curfew.
“The notion of a curfew … we are assessing that as well,” Newsom said.
He said officials studying curfew effects from France, Germany and Saudi Arabia.
“What does a real curfew mean in terms of certain types of industries and business sectors,” he said. “We really want the data to bear out.”
Secretary of the state Health and Human Services Agency, Dr. Mark Ghaly, said it could be months before the current case spikes stabilize.
“Hopefully by the end of December, we are seeing case rates come down and we can move forward in the tier system,” Ghaly said at Monday’s news conference.
He said today’s spikes in cases means a surge in hospitalizations is around the corner.
“Tracing the data over many many months, shows that cases today will end up in the hospitals in two to three weeks,” Ghaly said, adding roughly 14% of newly infected people will end up in a hospital bed.
Meanwhile, Orange County’s increased case rates have led to a steady increase in hospitalizations.
As of Monday, 257 people were hospitalized, including 85 in intensive care units.
That’s the highest number of hospitalizations since early September, when OC was still reeling from the Summer case spikes.
State public health officials warn the new cases across the state are increasing faster than the Summer wave, which saw over 700 people hospitalized in Orange County at one point in July.
“The number of new cases per day has increased dramatically since the beginning of November,” said acting state Health Officer Dr. Erica Pan at a Friday news conference.
She said compared to the summer spike, “this is almost a 20 percent faster rate of rise and the fastest rate of rise we have seen in California.”
And the second wave could be worse than the first, she said.
“We did see a peak in July and our concern with this rapid rate of rise, the peak could be even higher,” Pan said.
Since the pandemic began in March, the virus has now killed 1,526 people out of 65,605 confirmed cases, according to the county Health Care Agency.
The virus has already killed nearly three times as many people as the flu does on average in Orange County.
For context, Orange County has averaged around 20,000 deaths a year since 2016, including 543 annual flu deaths, according to state health data.
According to those same statistics, cancer kills over 4,600 people, heart disease kills over 2,800, over 1,400 die from Alzheimer’s disease and strokes kill over 1,300 people.
Ghaly is urging people to rethink large Thanksgiving dinners this year.
“Many of us have COVID fatigue,” Ghaly said at the Friday news conference. “The safest gatherings remain those that happen at home with members of your own household.”
State public health officials also released guidelines for Thanksgiving dinners Friday, which calls for no more than three households to join the dinner, wear masks as much as possible and try to eat outside.
Officials are also urging a two-week travel quarantine for people traveling to California.
“Travel, having others travel to your home, could potentially cause increased transmission,” Ghaly said. “It isn’t a restriction, this is an advisory.”
Officials are also asking people to not travel out of state or even to other counties as the virus cases are surging.
“We’re encouraging Californians to stay close to home. To avoid non essential travel to other states, other countries and frankly across the state,” Ghaly said.
Yet state public health officials weren’t considering issuing a stay home order, as of Friday.
“We are not looking today at a statewide stay at home order. We know that many Californians are fatigued and tired,” Ghaly said Friday.
But that could change.
“This is a quickly, rapidly evolving situation and we will do whatever it takes to properly protect the health of the California population,” he said.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @SpencerCustodio