Orange County residents can soon officially go back to bars, bowling alleys and the Los Alamitos Race Track after the county moved to the Orange Tier on the state’s reopening guidelines.

Although many bars throughout OC have been operating, Tuesday marks the first time in roughly a year they’re able to officially open for outdoor service. 

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UC Irvine epidemiologist and public health expert, Andrew Noymer, said it’s a good milestone. 

“I think it’s appropriate to move to the Orange Tier because we created this system and it was designed for transparency.” Noymer said in a Tuesday phone interview. “If you don’t honor that, then people will feel like they’ve been sold a bill of goods. So we have to stand by the metrics that we proposed.” 

The county has never made it to the less-restrictive Orange Tier since the state health officials rolled out the four-tiered reopening system over six months ago.

The move also means more people will be allowed inside already open businesses, like malls, movie theaters and restaurants, according to reopening guidelines.

Noymer also said people should still follow the public health protocols, like wearing masks and avoiding large indoor gatherings with people they don’t live with. 

“There’s no guarantee that we won’t go back to the Red Tier. I hope we don’t. The East Coast, I hope, doesn’t foreshadow something similar here,” Noymer said, referring to the recent case increases in that part of the country. 

He said if New York is seeing an increase in cases, then it could happen here also. 

“At the end of the day, the epidemiology is the epidemiology. And if New York isn’t at herd immunity after all they’ve been through, then there’s no reason to assume that California is at herd immunity,” Noymer said. 

Local health experts are worried about the variants that have been recently discovered around the state. 

Some of the variants, according to the California Department of Public Health, spread easier and cause more severe illnesses, while others may be resistant to antibody treatments.

Dr. Jay Lee, chief medical officer at the local health clinic Share Our Selves, said now is the time to bolster vaccinations as much as possible while case rates are low and people are going out more. 

“There is still a risk because we don’t necessarily know what the future holds in regards to those variants and whether coronavirus will become more spreadable or more deadly in the future. I would say the virus still has a chance to mutate, even though it is at a very low volume right now in the county. This is the time to get vaccinated,” Lee said in a Thursday phone interview. 

Lee and Noymer both said public health officials should get as many shots into the community as possible in order to prevent variants from getting out of hand or from new mutations occurring.  

Noymer said people should calculate their own risks.

“If someone says I have asthma and I’m not vaccinated yet, I say act on your personal risk scale,” he said. “The point is I think the bar can be open. But that doesn’t mean I’m saying hey everybody go to the bar. I’m saying you can go to the bar.” 

As of Monday, 145 people were hospitalized, including 29 in intensive care units, according to the county Health Care Agency.

That’s the lowest it’s been in almost a year. 

The virus has now killed 4,726 people — more than eight times what the flu kills on a yearly average.

COVID deaths have now surpassed average yearly cancer deaths in OC. 

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

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

Last year, more than 24,400 OC residents died, according to the latest 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.

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

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

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