Orange County Taken Off The State Coronavirus Watch List

ORANGE COUNTY, CA — Orange County made it off California’s coronavirus watch list Sunday, a

ORANGE COUNTY, CA — Orange County made it off California’s coronavirus watch list Sunday, a major development paving the way for hundreds of thousands of students to return to their classrooms as early as September.

If Orange County can keep the outbreak suppressed and stay off the California watch list for 15 days, the state will allow schools to reopen. However, it remains to be seen if some individual districts and schools opt for online learning a while longer. Families leery about sending their children back to the classroom would have the option of continuing online learning, according to the county health department. Orange County is among four counties to make it off the list in recent days, offering hope that California could be on the other side of the surge that forced renewed shutdowns in July.

The key metrics for tracking the outbreak show the spread of the coronavirus has been slowing in Orange County over the last couple of weeks. COVID-19 hospitalizations and new cases are down in Orange County, and the rate of county residents testing positive for COVID-19 has dropped to 5.4 percent, well below the state’s desired threshold of 8 percent.

The situation remains precarious, however. The county could be placed back on the list should it be flagged for exceeding any one of six different metrics for three consecutive days. Those metrics are the case rate, the percentage of positive tests, the average number of tests a county is able to perform daily, changes in the number of hospitalized patients and the percentage of ventilators and intensive care beds available.

The decision to reopen schools would still be left to individual districts. Orange County officials say 24 elementary schools have already been approved to reopen, including six in the Los Alamitos Unified School District.

For parents still leery of returning students to classrooms, Dr. Clayton Chau, the county’s interim chief health officer and director of the Orange County Health Care Agency, said the county “encourages” them to continue online learning, “especially children who are at a higher risk.”

The county will provide tests for staff and students and a “full medical team” that includes pediatricians, while infectious disease experts from Children’s Hospital of Orange County and UC Irvine “will be standing by to assist when needed,” Chau said.

Wednesday was the first day the county fell below the state’s monitoring thresholds, Chau said.

It is possible various business sectors that are shut down for commerce indoors may be allowed to return to normal, Chau said. County officials are expecting “new guidance” from the state this week.

Orange County has reported 45,801 cases of the coronavirus and 896 fatalities as of Saturday, with another update expected Sunday afternoon.

The data on hospitalizations continued to move in the right direction, with 392 people hospitalized as of Saturday and 110 of those in intensive care. Those numbers were 397 and 117 on Friday, and 400 and 118 on Thursday, according to the Orange County Health Care Agency.

The county’s case rate per 100,000 residents dropped from 95.6 to 92.9, which is still far higher than the California Department of Public Health threshold of 25 per 100,000 residents.

The county has 30.9% of intensive care unit beds available, which is better than the state’s 20% threshold. And the county’s hospitals have 58.7% of their ventilators available, well above the state standard of 25%.

The OCHCA reported that 588,919 COVID-19 tests have been conducted, including 7,559 reported Saturday. There have been 37,241 documented recoveries.

City News Service and Patch Staffer Paige Austin contributed to this report.

This article originally appeared on the Orange County Patch

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