Marking a fifth week of improving pandemic metrics from a rough start to the new year, Orange County has dipped one toe into the next, less restrictive tier of the state’s four-tier tracking system, which governs which businesses and public spaces can reopen.
The county’s testing positivity – that’s the share of swab and spit tests coming back positive and is one of three critical metrics used to determine how strict pandemic rules should be – this week fell to 7.8%, barely making it over the 8% threshold into red tier territory, according to a state Department of Public Health update Tuesday, Feb. 16. Last week, the rate of positive tests was 9.4%.
However, Orange County will remain in the strictest purple tier, where it has hunkered since mid-November, until two other critical metrics improve further: case rate and health equity. Counties must qualify in all three metrics for the next tier for two weeks to advance.
The county’s case rate dropped to 20.7 cases per day per 100,000 residents this week from 29.7 per 100,000 last week. The rate needs to fall below 7 per 100,000 to meet red tier goals.
The health equity metric – or testing positivity among Orange County neighborhoods that have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic – fell to 10.7% from 12.4% last week, settling above the 8% red tier target.
Starting last September, Orange County enjoyed a two-month respite from the tightest pandemic rules when it made it to the red tier and businesses such as restaurants, movie theaters and gyms could operate indoors at limited capacity.
Asked during a news conference Tuesday if many of California’s counties might leave the purple tier by spring, as widely improving metrics statewide suggest, Gov. Gavin Newsom said, “One thing I’ve learned is be careful.”
“The answer is ‘yes’ based on trend lines,” Newsom said during a news conference, but a big caveat is that state officials don’t yet know the role COVID-19 variants currently spreading in the state will play. “It’s hard to predict the future with this virus.
“If the trendlines continue … you’ll see counties move not just from purple to red, but more and more red to orange.”