Restrictions on youth and adult recreational sports like football, baseball, rugby and water polo could soon roll back if Orange County’s Coronavirus positivity rates keep going down.

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New guidance from the state today says counties in the Red and Purple tiers — the two most restrictive ones — could allow high-contact sports if their case rates are at or below 14 per 100,000. 

Weekly testing and results available within 24 hours of competition would be required for all players.

Currently, Orange County sits in the purple tier with an adjusted daily case rate averaging 20 new cases per 100,000 people, with a 7-day lag in the reporting of new cases, according to official data.

The county’s acting Public Health Officer and Health Care Agency director, Dr. Clayton Chau, told Voice of OC on Friday morning that Orange County indeed must make more progress before the state’s eased restrictions apply to the region.

Though “we are hoping our case rate per 100K will reach below 14 within a week or so,” Chau said in a text message.

The county, if it were to achieve that under the new state guidance, could also allow moderate-contact sports like baseball, cheerleading and softball, to be played without the weekly testing requirement.

Currently the county under its purple tier status is restricted to allowing only low-contact sports, like badminton, biking and golf, to be played.

Meanwhile, Orange County’s teachers and food and agriculture workers could get the Coronavirus vaccine as early as next week, even as county officials find themselves closing vaccination sites due to supply delays caused by severe weather conditions across the U.S.

County officials plan to “set aside 30%” of a new vaccine supply shipment next week “to vaccinate educators, child care, food and agriculture workers,” according to Chau.

“I don’t think (the recent supply delays) it will impact us in starting to vaccinate these added sector populations,” Chau said in a Thursday text message.

All vaccine allocations to the county have so far been prioritized for healthcare workers and seniors 65 years old and above.

“Beginning next week, we should be able to get the educators vaccinated,” Chau said at a virtual Town Hall Wednesday night with county Supervisor Doug Chaffee and the county’s Spanish language outreach specialist Martin Plascencia.  “I want to remind folks that for educators over the age of 65, they have been qualified to enroll and get vaccinated.

Asked by Voice of OC on Thursday whether teachers could access the mass vaccination sites like Soka University, or Santa Ana College, Chau said “Yes but we are planning with OCDE and the districts to stand up vaccination sites on school campuses throughout OC.”

“We are following the CDC’s guidance in strategizing to minimize barriers to accessing vaccination for teachers such as vaccine clinics at or close to the schools.  For that, we have been planning with OCDE and the school districts,” he added.

Asked by Plascencia — taking questions from the public during the town hall — whether that would also apply to school staff, Chau said “we’re working with OCDE (the county Dept. of Education) and all superintendents of school districts on that.”

The Santa Ana Unified School District, for one, is “planning our priority list for who’s gonna get the vaccines first in that phase,” said district spokesperson Fermin Leal. 

“That would include any public facing employee — our lunch workers and custodial staff,” Leal said. “We’re also hearing different things about how many vaccines will be available. We’re not anticipating it will be tens of thousands for all — just a limited amount, and kind of scaling up.”

There are questions over how this could play into school reopening strategies across the county.

“Most of the local openings will be based on the local geographical positivity rates,” Chau said at the town hall.  

“We also follow the CDC’s guidance that access to vaccination should not be considered a condition for reopening schools for in-person instruction,” Chau also said in a Thursday text message.

Leal said SAUSD isn’t planning on reopening based on vaccines: “We’re still in a wait-and-see mode. Our numbers are going down as far as Covid-19 positivity rates. There is a possibility we could open without vaccines if our numbers are low enough.”

Tamara Fairbanks, President of the Newport-Mesa School District teachers’ union, said her district “has been in a hybrid model, so we have been meeting with students in person even during the biggest surge, and I believe this will actually alleviate some anxiety for teachers who have already been working in person.”

Getting the teachers vaccinated, in conjunction with ensuring the school district is actually adhering to and enforcing school safety guidelines, “is actually a step closer to having a safer work environment,” Fairbanks said.

“We constantly had to push for safety compliance and stronger safety compliance during in-person learning. I dont think this changes that, however it does alleviate some worry especially. When it comes to elementary teachers because they’re so involved and so exposed because some of their kids do not wear masks. I think it will chip off some worry.” 

Meanwhile, official data shared at the Wednesday town hall showed that more than 635,000 patients have registered on the county’s vaccine registration app Othena. Of that number, nearly 196,000 people have been vaccinated with 261,000 appointments still scheduled. 

Chau said the app will start asking users whether they meet the eligibility criteria.

“People are frustrated because we don’t have enough vaccines allocated to Orange County and it’s not just our county, this is for all counties … The demand is really higher than the number of vaccines that are available,” he said, adding: 

“I’m hopeful that within a few weeks there will be more vaccines allocated in Orange County.” 

The number of people hospitalized with the virus continues to go down, standing at 663 hospitalizations as of Thursday.

Meanwhile, deaths continued to rise, standing at 3,685 since the start of the pandemic with 41 new deaths reported Thursday.

To date, there have been 243,665 confirmed cases.

For context, Orange County has averaged around 20,000 deaths from other causes a year since 2016, including  543 annual flu deaths, according to state health data.

According to the state death statistics, cancer kills over 4,600 people, heart disease kills over 2,800, more than 1,400 die from Alzheimer’s disease and strokes kill over 1,300 people.

Orange County has already surpassed its yearly average 20,000 deaths, with 23,883 people dead as of December, according to the latest available state data.

Coronavirus deaths, meanwhile, have now surpassed the flu, heart diseases, Alzheimer’s disease and strokes as a cause of death in Orange County. Presently, only cancer has killed more residents on an annual basis than the virus.

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

Infections | Hospitalizations & Deaths | City-by-City Data | Demographics

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