By Shawn Raymundo

Orange County’s bars could go back into lockdown, OC Board Supervisor and Chairperson Michelle Steel said Tuesday, June 30, as the county continued to see a spike in new coronavirus cases and hospitalizations.

A decision to once again close bars countywide in order to stem the latest spread of COVID-19 could come from Dr. Clayton Chau, the interim county health officer, “if, in his medical opinion, it is appropriate to do so,” Steel warned in a press release.

Nearly 780 new positive cases of COVID-19 were added to the county’s cumulative total on Tuesday, setting another new single-day record of reported cases—the fifth time in a two-week period. Cumulatively, the county has seen a total of 13,843 cases.

The county’s hospitalization numbers also climbed to a new high on Tuesday, when 510 people who tested positive for the virus were reported as needing a hospital bed. Of those in a hospital, 176 of them were being treated in intensive care units.

The latest data from the Orange County Health Care Agency puts the county’s test positivity rate at 9.9%, up from the 5.1% just a week ago. The agency’s numbers note that the county hasn’t fallen below the state’s thresholds for hospital capacity as 40.6% of county ICU beds currently remain available, while 67% of the hospitals’ ventilators remain unused.

In the last seven days, the three South County cities have also seen significant increases in cases, as San Clemente on Tuesday surpassed a new benchmark with 104 total cases—19 more than the week prior.

Dana Point added another 13 cases over the one-week period, going from 41 to 54, while San Juan Capistrano’s total case count increased from 77 to 85.

Though acknowledging the recent rise in cases, Steel said those new cases represented testing and the collection of specimens from more than two weeks ago.

“The County has continued to closely monitor cases on a daily basis,” Steel said in her release. “While the report today—and the recent increased rate of infections—is concerning, the County and our local health system continue to be prepared to respond to protect the health and safety of our residents.”

The rise in cases prompted the state on Monday to add the county to its data monitoring watch list, which currently consists of 19 total counties—representing roughly 72% of the state’s population— that are receiving targeted engagement from the state to review strategies on stemming the latest spread.

According to the state, Orange County’s increase in hospitalization is attributed to community transmission from gatherings and workplaces, as well as outbreaks in nursing homes and assisted living facilities.

Among the steps that the state is suggesting for the county to mitigate the problem is increased messaging from cities and businesses to encourage social distancing and face coverings, as well as increased testing sites.

Gov. Gavin Newsom, during his daily press briefing Monday, spoke at length about the state’s overall rise in transmissions, warning that he would use his “dimmer switch” to roll back some of the reopenings on a county-by-county basis.

On Sunday, the governor used said “dimmer switch” to order all bars in seven counties including Los Angeles to close. The criteria for that determination, he said on Monday, is based on whether the county has been on the watch list for 14 days.

“That’s 14 days where we have seen these counties on the watch list and that becomes the criteria,” he said. “Once, over a two-week period and you’re still on that watch list and we’re still seeing an increasing spread and transmission, then that triggers the kind of decision we made yesterday.”

Newsom on Tuesday reiterated his previous warning to use the “dimmer switch” as he largely addressed the desire most families will have this Fourth of July weekend to get together and congregate.

“One of the areas of biggest concerns remains family gatherings, not just bars, not just out in the streets where people are protesting and the like, it’s specifically family gatherings, where family members or other households and extended family members begin to mix and let down their guard,” he said.

More messaging on the need for face coverings and social distancing, he said, is going to be needed as holiday weekend approaches.

“We’re going to need to do more,” he said, adding, “messaging more of the seriousness of face covering and physical distancing and be a bit more aggressive of guidelines as it relates to Fourth of July.”

Newsom concluded his press conference Tuesday to note that he’ll be making an announcement Wednesday regarding further use of the “dimmer switch” as it relates to guidelines for the July 4 holiday.

“Tomorrow we’ll be making some additional announcements, efforts to use that dimmer switch and begin to toggle back on the stay-at-home order,” he said. “The framework for us is this: if you’re not going to stay home and you’re not going to wear a mask in public, we have to enforce, and we will, and we’ll making an announcement tomorrow.”

Newsom’s daily press briefings are scheduled for noon and are livestreamed via the governor’s Facebook page.

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