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By Zach Cavanagh

As COVID-19 vaccination rates continue to increase and the coronavirus case, hospitalization and death rates continue to fall, Orange County could finally start turning at least one eye towards the next tier down in the state’s four-tiered, color-coded coronavirus monitoring system on Tuesday, Feb. 16.

In the four monitored metrics, Orange County’s numbers continued their marked improvement in the state’s weekly tier update on Tuesday, and despite remaining in the highest-risk purple “widespread” tier, the county finally saw a glimpse of red.

For the first time since Nov. 28, Orange County’s testing positivity dipped back into the red “substantial” level, as the countywide number went down to 7.8% from last week’s 9.4%. The metric was at 10.9% two weeks ago. The threshold for the purple tier is 8%, and the red tier ranges from 5-8%.

Daily new cases per 100,000 residents continued to dip as the metric dropped to an adjusted 20.7 daily new cases per 100,000, down from the 29.4 new cases last week and the 39.0 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 21.0 daily new cases per 100,000, down from 49.7 last week and from 43.1 two weeks ago.

The county’s health equity positivity rate was reported at 10.7%, down from last week’s 12.4% and the 13.9% 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 now 52 counties in the purple tier, three in the red tier, and three counties in the orange “moderate” tier. All non-purple counties are in rural Northern California.

Where California’s counties stand in the state’s four-tiered, color-coded coronavirus monitoring system as of Feb. 16. Graphic: California Department of Public Health

On the vaccine front, the state reported it had administered 6.26 million vaccine doses with 547,194 total in Orange County as of Tuesday, Feb. 16 – 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 235,297 people had received only a first dose, and 70,719 people had received a first and second dose, as of Feb. 8.

After its first decrease in nearly two months, the death rate statewide and locally continued its positive trend, following the cases and hospitalizations before it.

Statewide, the 14-day daily new death average has gone down 23.9% in the last 14 days from an average 542.2 deaths per day to 412.6. Last week, the state average had decreased 2.7% in the previous 14 days. In Orange County, the 14-day daily average has gone down by 33.5% in the last 14 days from an average 48.9 deaths per day to 32.5. Last week, the county average had decreased 0.3% in the previous 14 days.

The Southern California region is now at an adjusted 14.8% available ICU capacity. Based on the state’s four-week projection model, Southern California is set to be at 44.8% ICU availability on March 16.

Hospitalizations again saw even larger decreases than the week before with a 39.5% decrease statewide over the last 14 days, and a 33.1% decrease in ICU patients over the last 14 days. California has its lowest number of hospitalizations since Nov. 30 and lowest number of ICU patients since Dec. 7.

As of Tuesday, Orange County hospitalizations had decreased 43.7% in the last 14 days, and ICU patients decreased 36.5% over the last 14 days. The county is at its lowest number of hospitalizations since Dec. 3 and lowest number of ICU patients since Dec. 6. The ICU patient total is also under the mid-July high of last summer.

Statewide, the testing positivity continues its sharp drop as well with a 4.2% 14-day testing positivity rate in California, the state’s lowest number since Nov. 13. It’s a decrease from last week’s 5.6% 14-day average and the 7.2% 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 10,091.9 on Monday, Feb. 15, way down from 14,386.1 on Monday, Feb. 8.

Nationally, the United States now tops 27.6 million coronavirus cases. There have been 486,325 deaths in the United States, and the national seven-day average testing positivity is at 5.52%, down from 6.89% last week and 7.97% two weeks ago.

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