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By Zach Cavanagh

Coronavirus metrics across the state and locally remained on their positive trends this week as California continues to come down from the pandemic highs of the winter coronavirus surge.

After the state lifted all of its regional stay-at-home orders on Jan. 25, California returned to its four-tiered, color-coded, county-by-county coronavirus monitoring system. The four-tiered system is the main component of the state’s Blueprint for a Safer Economy for determining in what capacity different sectors, businesses and activities can reopen safely as the COVID-19 pandemic continues.

Orange County’s coronavirus monitoring metrics decreased considerably in the weekly coronavirus tier update on Tuesday, Feb. 2, but the county remained high in the highest-risk purple “widespread” tier.

Daily new cases per 100,000 residents continued to dip as the metric dropped to an adjusted 39.0 daily new cases per 100,000, down from the 46.6 new cases last week and the 67.1 of two weeks ago. The threshold for the purple tier is 7.0.

The state reports an adjusted case rate, which is adjusted for the volume of testing. The unadjusted rate is 43.1 daily new cases per 100,000, down from 66.1 last week and from 99.7 two weeks ago.

The county saw a drop in its testing positivity, as the countywide number dipped to 10.9% from last week’s 12.9%. The metric was at 16.7% two weeks ago. The threshold for the purple tier is 8%.

The county’s health equity positivity rate was reported at 13.9%, down from last week’s 16.6% and the 21.2% of two weeks ago. The threshold for the purple tier is 8%. The health equity rate measures the testing positivity in a county’s low-income and more racially diverse neighborhoods.

To move back down to the red “substantial” tier, Orange County would need to have its metrics at red levels for two consecutive weeks. The red tier requires the case rate to sit between 4.0 and 7.0, the testing positivity between 5.0% and 8.0% and the health equity rate between 5.3% and 8.0%.

There are still 54 counties in the purple tier, one in the red tier, and two counties (Trinity and Alpine) dropped to the orange “moderate” tier for a total of three at that level.

Where California’s counties stand in the state’s four-tiered, color-coded coronavirus monitoring system as of Feb. 2. Graphic: California Department of Public Health

Statewide, Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly reported a 7.2% 14-day testing positivity rate in California with a 6.4% seven-day rate, both decreases from last week’s 9% 14-day average and 7.9% seven-day average as downward trends continued. The 14-day rate was 11.6% 14 days ago.

Along with those continually lowering testing positivity rates, the transmission rate again dropped down with the state’s R-effective down to 0.78, which means each person infected with COVID-19 is spreading the virus to well-below one other person on average.

The state’s hospital system gets to a better point with each passing day as those numbers also keep trending down.

The Southern California region is now at an adjusted 9.1% available ICU capacity. Based on the state’s four-week projection model, Southern California is set to be at 43.7% ICU availability on March 1.

Hospitalizations saw even larger decreases than last week with a 28.8% decrease statewide over the last 14 days, and an 18.9% decrease in ICU patients over the last 14 days. As of Tuesday, Orange County hospitalizations had decreased 33.7% in the last 14 days, and ICU patients decreased 29.3% over the last 14 days.

While the death rate continued to rise, the increases were much smaller than in previous weeks.

Statewide, the 14-day daily new death average has gone up 9.4% in the last 14 days from an average 495.4 deaths per day to 542.2. Last week, the state average had increased 17.2% in the previous 14 days. In Orange County, the 14-day daily average has gone up by 24.2% in the last 14 days from an average 39.35 deaths per day to 48.9. Last week, the county average had increased 105.5% in the previous 14 days.

There were 1,187 coronavirus-related deaths reported in Orange County in January making it by far the deadliest month of the pandemic. August marked the previous one-month high reported at 376.

Nationally, the United States now tops 26 million coronavirus cases. There have been 443,355 deaths in the United States, and the national seven-day average testing positivity is at 7.97%, down from 9.08% last week.

The state’s total new cases and case averages have dropped considerably from their winter highs. The 14-day rolling average of daily new cases dropped to 19,557.3 on Monday, Feb. 1, way down from 28,992.7 on Monday, Jan. 25.

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