SANTA ANA (CNS) - Orange County was removed from California's coronavirus monitoring list Sunday, starting the clock for all public schools in the county to potentially reopen in early September.
The state mandates a county must be off the watch list for 15 days before all schools can reopen. Orange County's data on hospitalizations and other key metrics have been moving in the right direction, with the rate of county residents testing positive for COVID-19 at 5-point-4 percent, below the state's desired threshold of 8 percent.
Underscoring the positive trends, county health officials reported just 153 newly confirmed cases of COVID-19 and one additional death Sunday, bringing the county's totals to 45,954 cases and 897 fatalities.
The data on hospitalizations continued to move in the right direction, with 380 people hospitalized and 111 of those in intensive care. Those numbers were 392 and 110 on Saturday, 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 92.9 to 90.2, which is still far higher than the California Department of Public Health threshold of 25 per 100,000 residents.
The county has 29% of intensive care unit beds available, which is better than the state's 20% threshold. And the county's hospitals have 58% of their ventilators available, well above the state standard of 25%.
The OCHCA reported that 594,082 COVID-19 tests have been conducted, including 5,163 reported Sunday. There have been 37,452 documented recoveries.
Orange 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.