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By Zach Cavanagh

The two-week clock for Orange County to take a step down to the red “substantial” tier started with the state’s latest coronavirus tier update on Tuesday, March 2.

In the state-monitored metrics, Orange County’s numbers continued their steady drops, and while the county sits in the highest-risk purple “widespread” tier, the county got its two testing positivity metrics down two levels lower to the orange “moderate” level.

To move down, counties must have all three metrics at the next level down (i.e. down to red to leave purple) for two straight weeks or have both its testing positivity and health equity positivity down two tiers below their current level (i.e. down to orange to leave purple) for two straight weeks with the case rate declining. Orange County now sits at those latter thresholds.

Counties can only move down one tier at a time and must be in a tier for three weeks before moving again. March 16 is the earliest Orange County could move to the red tier, and if trends hold, the earliest the county could reach the orange tier would be April 6.

If Orange County returns to the red tier for the first time since the “emergency brake” was pulled on the state’s four-tiered, color-coded coronavirus monitoring system in mid-November, several businesses would be allowed to reopen or restart indoor operations, including restaurants, movie theaters and gyms.

Orange County’s testing positivity dipped into the orange tier for the first time since Nov. 16 as the countywide number went down to 3.9% from last week’s 5.4%. The metric was at 7.8% two weeks ago. The orange tier ranges from 2.0-4.9%.

Orange County’s health equity positivity rate is in the orange tier for the very first time since it was introduced last October. The rate was reported at 5%, down from last week’s 7% and the 10.7% of two weeks ago. The orange tier ranges from 2.2% to 5.2%. The health equity rate measures the testing positivity in a county’s low-income and more racially diverse neighborhoods.

Daily new cases per 100,000 residents continued to drop and just missed the red tier as the metric dropped to an adjusted 7.6 daily new cases per 100,000, down from the 11.9 new cases last week and the 20.7 of two weeks ago. The threshold for the purple tier is anything greater than 7.0, and the red tier ranges from 4.0-7.0

The state reports an adjusted case rate, which is adjusted for the volume of testing. The unadjusted rate is 7.5 daily new cases per 100,000, down from 11.7 last week and from 21.0 two weeks ago.

There are now 40 counties in the purple tier, 16 in the red tier, and two counties in the orange tier.

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

On the vaccine front, the state reported it had administered over 9.31 million vaccine doses with 775,368 total in Orange County as of Tuesday, March 2 – the third most by any county in the state. Orange County, which reports its vaccine numbers weekly on Thursdays with a few days of lag, said 261,585 people had received only a first dose, and 165,064 people had received a first and second dose, as of Feb. 22

The Southern California region is now at an adjusted 25.3% available ICU capacity. Based on the state’s four-week projection model, Southern California is set to be at 40.1% ICU availability on March 30.

Hospitalizations continued major declines with a 41.7% decrease statewide over the last 14 days, and a 44.2% decrease in ICU patients over the last 14 days. California has its lowest number of hospitalizations since Nov. 17 and lowest number of ICU patients since Nov. 21.

As of Tuesday, Orange County hospitalizations had decreased 43.2% in the last 14 days, and ICU patients decreased 50.6% over the last 14 days. The county is at its lowest number of hospitalizations since Nov. 21 and lowest number of ICU patients since Nov. 23. Both totals are also well under the mid-July high of last summer.

Statewide, the testing positivity has dropped to nearly its lowest levels of the pandemic with a 2.6% 14-day testing positivity rate in California, the state’s lowest number since Oct. 19. It’s the second-lowest rate of the pandemic with the lowest at 2.5% from Oct. 15-18 and a decrease from last week’s 3.3% 14-day average and the 4.2% of two weeks ago.

The state’s total new cases and case averages continue to drop precipitously. The 14-day rolling average of daily new cases dropped to 4,968.1 on Monday, March 1, down from 6,819.1 on Monday, Feb. 22.

Nationally, the United States now tops 28.6 million coronavirus cases. There have been 514,657 deaths in the United States, and the national seven-day average testing positivity is at 4.42%, down from 4.72% last week and 5.52% two weeks ago.

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