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Orange County restaurants might be able to resume indoor dining, along with movie theaters and gyms reopening, next week if the county’s coronavirus case rates either stay where they’re at, or continue to drop. 

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County health officer and OC Health Care Agency Director, Dr. Clayton Chau, today told county Supervisors he predicts the county will move from the most restrictive tier — the Purple Tier — to the Red Tier on the state’s reopening guidelines next week. 

“If our numbers continue to improve, or even stay the same, I’m predicting that next week we have two weeks credit — it means we have a high probability of officially getting to the Red Tier next Wednesday,” Chau said at the OC Board of Supervisors regular Tuesday meeting. 

Last week, Gov. Gavin Newsom abruptly changed reopening metrics, essentially easing the path for counties to reopen if 400,000 more vaccines are distributed to residents in the state’s 400 poorest zip codes. 

OC has four of those zip codes: two in North Santa Ana, one in West Anaheim and one in West Garden Grove.

“Those four zip codes in Orange County comprises … close to 169,000 people,” Chau said. 

That’s roughly 5.2% of OC’s 3.2 million residents.

Supervisors Chairman Andrew Do summed up the statewide changes. 

“The message here is that more people we vaccinate, especially those in the four zip codes … and if that happens statewide, the standards of which we can move into better tiers can be relaxed,” Do said. 

If Orange County can move into the Red Tier before next month, Disneyland and Knott’s Berry Farm can reopen their gates beginning April 1 at limited numbers. 

While the supervisors asked various questions about the changes and what residents can expect, Supervisor Don Wagner was the only one of his colleagues to criticize the changes. 

“Why would we accept more sick people just because we have more vaccines? The issue here is fewer sick people. So shouldn’t it go the other way? … and I’m not arguing the Governor should do this. I’m just trying to understand — not the first time — his logic,” Wagner said. 

Locally, Wagner’s been a chief critic of Newsom’s reopening plans, public health orders and the now-defunct regional shutdown order. 

“We’re willing to accept more sick people, more hospitalization, more ICUs and maybe more deaths, just because we got vaccines,” Wagner said. 

Chau said increasing vaccinations to the most vulnerable seniors living in the poorest neighborhoods will decrease the chances of them getting severely sick. 

“So the Governor is willing to accept more sick people just because they won’t be as sick in his opinion,” Wagner said.

In response, Chau said if more vulnerable people are vaccinated, the virus won’t spread to them as easily from younger people. 

He also said the state is expected to allow people with chronic medical conditions to begin getting vaccinated next week. 

The only time the county has moved into the Red Tier was early September.

At that time, 1,056 people were dead from the virus. 

OC was again moved back into the Purple Tier a little over two months later when the second wave began hitting in November, which saw skyrocketing case rates and steadily increasing hospitalizations. 

When the county reverted back to the Purple Tier on the reopening guidelines and had to shut down more businesses, there were 1,526 people dead from the virus. 

A few weeks after that move back to the Purple Tier, Gov. Gavin Newsom ordered a regional shutdown for Southern California early December because of the worsening virus trends. 

At that time, there were 1,618 people dead from the virus in Orange County. 

The regional order was eventually lifted in late January and OC remained in the purple tier — there were 2,704 dead at that time. 

Now, as OC is expected to head into the Red Tier, there are over 4,300 people dead by the virus, following two months of spiking cases and hospitalizations, which began declining in mid-January. 

While deaths continue to spike, hospitalizations have been decreasing. 

As of Tuesday 283 people were hospitalized, including 77 in intensive care units, according to the county Health Care Agency

The last time hospitalizations were that low was mid-November, when the second wave began crashing against the county. Hospitalizations more than doubled after Thanksgiving. 

The virus has now killed 4,313 people, including 61 new deaths reported Tuesday. 

That’s nearly eight times the number of people killed by the flu in OC on a yearly average. 

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

It’s also killed more than heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease and strokes do on a yearly average, respectively. 

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.


Here’s the latest on the virus numbers across Orange County from county data:
Infections | Hospitalizations & Deaths | City-by-City Data | Demographics

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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