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By Collin Breaux

Some restrictions on indoor dining, gyms, and movie theaters were lifted on Sunday in Orange County—and neighboring counties—as the area eased into the red tier of the state’s COVID-19 monitoring system. The shift to the red tier was expected, but came quicker than anticipated.

Orange County was previously in the purple “widespread” tier, the most restrictive of the four tiers. Indoor dining and other business operations were prohibited under the purple tier designation.

The move to the less restrictive red tier comes as cases continue dropping and vaccinations increase in the region.

Orange County Fifth District Supervisor Lisa Bartlett—whose area includes San Juan Capistrano, San Clemente, and Dana Point—visited a vaccine Point of Dispensing site at the San Juan Capistrano Community Center on Tuesday, March 16, to see firsthand how it was serving “the underserved and hardest-hit communities.”

“They’ve got a great operation here—very efficient,” Bartlett said. “Start to finish, less than 40 minutes. This is getting right into the communities that have been hardest hit with COVID-19.”

Orange County Fifth District Supervisor Lisa Bartlett—whose area includes San Juan Capistrano, San Clemente, and Dana Point—visited a vaccine Point of Dispensing site at the San Juan Capistrano Community Center on Tuesday, March 16, to see firsthand how it was serving “the underserved and hardest-hit communities.” Photo: Shawn Raymundo

San Juan Capistrano has generally seen higher rates of cases compared to neighboring areas. Outreach representatives have gone door-to-door to talk with and give peace of mind to families hesitant to get vaccinated, Bartlett said.

“I think it’s going very well,” Bartlett said of how the vaccine rollout has gone in Orange County. “We do have a shortage of vaccines. We have the bandwidth to double, triple, even quadruple our vaccinations on a daily basis. We just don’t have the vaccine doses from the state.”

A Point of Dispensing site for COVID-19 vaccines at the San Juan Capistrano Community Center is shown here. Over a million doses have been administered in Orange County so far. Photo: Shawn Raymundo

Asked her reaction to Orange County reaching over a million vaccine doses to date, she said that is tremendous and represents “a third of our population.”

As for the move to the red tier, Bartlett said she is hopeful the county can move into the orange tier “some time in April” if COVID-19 statistics continue improving. The orange tier means a county has “moderate” risk levels, and is even less restrictive than the red tier.

“The orange tier means that businesses are going to be able to open up to a much greater extent, and more indoor activities on a safe basis,” Bartlett said. “It really allows us to continue to open up and expand our local economy, which is so important—to get people back to work, create more jobs, and get our economy back on track.”

Orange County reported 7,333 tests on March 16, and has over 3.1 million cumulative tests so far. There have been 239,857 recoveries to date.

No deaths from COVID-19 were reported in Orange County on March 16. There have been 4,486 cumulative deaths in Orange County to date.

A majority of counties in California are in the red “substantial” tier. There are now 11 counties in the widespread tier, 42 in the substantial tier, four counties in the moderate tier, and one in the minimal tier. Those numbers represent an increase in the substantial tier, and decrease in the widespread tier, as compared to last week.

On the vaccine front, the state reported it had administered over 12 million vaccine doses, with 1,037,074 in Orange County as of Tuesday, March 16–an increase by 169,127 from a week ago.

Nationally, the United States has 29.5 million cases and approximately 536,00 deaths in total. California has approximately 3.6 million cases and 56,621 deaths. There are approximately 120 million cases worldwide in total.

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