SANTA ANA, Calif. (CNS) — Orange County hit a new low in COVID-19 hospitalizations Wednesday, as its health department reported fewer than three dozen new cases.
Hospitalizations dropped from 63 on Tuesday to 58, and the number of intensive care unit patients dipped from 15 to 14.
Hospitalizations "fluctuate up and down, but there's a clear downward trend," Orange County Supervisor Lisa Bartlett said. "We're trending in the right direction. If there was something like a gold or platinum tier, we'd be there by now."
According to weekly state data released every Tuesday, the average for the county's daily case rate per 100,000 residents dropped from 1.3 to 0.9. The overall test positivity rate improved from 0.8% to 0.6%, and the county's Health Equity Quartile rate, which measures positivity in hot spots in disadvantaged communities, remained at 0.7%.
Those numbers guaranteed the county remained in the least-restrictive yellow tier. The state is getting ready to scrap its tier system for reopening the economy during the pandemic.
"June 15 is state reopening day and we're hoping the governor keeps his word," Bartlett said.
But officials are not clear if there will be exceptions in the new rules.
"We're excited about June 15 and what it means technically, but until (Gov. Gavin Newsom) makes that announcement, we don't know what the caveats will be," Bartlett said.
Another big potential change on the horizon could be workplace rules from Cal-OSHA. The state agency has proposed continuing mask mandates for employees unless an employer can prove all of its workers are vaccinated.
"It's causing a lot of consternation, because some people for whatever reasons don't want to get vaccinated, but don't want to let everyone around them know," Bartlett said. "It's causing a lot of workplace issues, privacy issues."
Face coverings will continue to be required by public transportation officials, as well, Bartlett said.
"It's very confusing and people are very frustrated at this point because there's no clear delineation what policy will prevail for face coverings," she said.
Andrew Noymer, a UC Irvine professor of population health and disease prevention, has predicted that COVID-19 will be mild this summer but may pick up again in the fall. He has said that people should be given a break from mask wearing during the good months because they might have to mask up again in the fall. Others have argued that if people ditch masks now, they won't put on a face covering again later when it is necessary.
Noymer predicted that "June, July and August are going to look dandy, but then the kids will be back in school in late August and let the games begin. It's going to come back. Will it be like last January? I doubt it, but this thing is not over."
Noymer said the state is "doing very well" with vaccinations, so any wave in the fall will be tamped down because of that. States struggling with vaccinations may struggle in the fall and winter, he said.
"People are going to say any lockdowns were useless because we've opened up and nothing is happening and that is the most specious argument," Noymer said. "That's just not the right logic."
Orange County CEO Frank Kim agreed the numbers "are looking pretty good."
County officials have seen an overall decline in demand for vaccinations, but, on the other hand, they are having success reaching many residents with mobile vaccination centers, particularly with the one in Santa Ana serving clients of CalOptima, the county's insurance for low-income residents, Kim said.
"They were doing over 1,000 (vaccinations) a day," Kim said of mobile vaccine points of distribution.
The Orange County Health Care Agency reported 31 new infections on Wednesday, hiking the cumulative case count to 255,322, and logged three more fatalities, bringing the death toll to 5,068.
Two of those fatalities were in March, raising that month's death toll to 184. The death toll in May stands at eight. There have been no deaths reported this month.
The death toll in April stands at 41, and 581 in February.
The death toll for January, the deadliest month during the pandemic, is at 1,548, and the death toll in December, the next deadliest month, is at 959.
Another 4,510 COVID-19 tests were reported, bringing the county's total to 3,932,668.
The county's weekly average of tests per 100,000 is 233.1.
Orange County officially entered the least-restrictive yellow tier of the reopening blueprint on May 19, which allowed for greater attendance for many businesses such as movie theaters and gyms, while museums, zoos and aquariums were allowed to open at full capacity. For the first time, bars and distilleries were able to open indoors, and theme parks such as Disneyland could expand attendance.