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By Zach Cavanagh

Orange County took another step toward the next tier down in the state’s four-tiered, color-coded coronavirus monitoring system in the weekly update on Tuesday, Feb. 23.

In the four monitored metrics, Orange County’s numbers once again continued their marked improvement, and despite remaining in the highest-risk purple “widespread” tier, the county got a second metric to the red “substantial” level after its testing positivity dropping down last week.

For the first time since mid-November, Orange County’s health equity positivity rate was reported at a red level of 7.0%, down from last week’s 10.7% and the 12.4% of two weeks ago. The threshold for the purple tier is 8%, and the red tier ranges from 5.3% to 8%. The health equity rate measures the testing positivity in a county’s low-income and more racially diverse neighborhoods.

Orange County’s testing positivity, also at its lowest since mid-November, dipped further into the red “substantial” level, as the countywide number went down to 5.4% from last week’s 7.8%. The metric was at 9.4% two weeks ago. The red tier ranges from 5-8%.

Daily new cases per 100,000 residents continued to dip as the metric dropped to an adjusted 11.9 daily new cases per 100,000, down from the 20.7 new cases last week and the 29.4 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 11.7 daily new cases per 100,000, down from 21.0 last week and from 49.7 two weeks ago.

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%.7

There are now 47 counties in the purple tier, nine in the red tier, and two 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. 23. Graphic: California Department of Public Health

On the vaccine front, the state reported it had administered over 7.58 million vaccine doses with 635,285 total in Orange County as of Tuesday, Feb. 23 – 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 261,374 people had received only a first dose, and 125,487 people had received a first and second dose, as of Feb. 15.

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 26.8% in the last 14 days from an average 496.4 deaths per day to 363.3. Last week, the state average had decreased 23.9% in the previous 14 days. In Orange County, the 14-day daily average has gone down by 33.3% in the last 14 days from an average 46.3 deaths per day to 30.9. Last week, the county average had decreased 33.5% in the previous 14 days.

The Southern California region is now at an adjusted 19.5% available ICU capacity. Based on the state’s four-week projection model, Southern California is set to be at 45.2% ICU availability on March 23.

Hospitalizations again saw even larger decreases than the week before with a 42% decrease statewide over the last 14 days, and a 42% decrease in ICU patients over the last 14 days. California has its lowest number of hospitalizations since Nov. 21 and lowest number of ICU patients since Nov. 28.

As of Tuesday, Orange County hospitalizations had decreased 49% in the last 14 days, and ICU patients decreased 53% over the last 14 days. The county is at its lowest number of hospitalizations since Nov. 27 and lowest number of ICU patients since Nov. 29. The both total are also well under the mid-July high of last summer.

Statewide, the testing positivity continues its sharp drop as well with a 3.3% 14-day testing positivity rate in California, the state’s lowest number since Nov. 4. It’s a decrease from last week’s 4.2% 14-day average and the 5.6% 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 6,819.1 on Monday, Feb. 22, down from 10,091.1 on Monday, Feb. 15.

Nationally, the United States now tops 28 million coronavirus cases. There have been 500,310 deaths in the United States, and the national seven-day average testing positivity is at 4.72%, down from 5.52% last week and 6.89% two weeks ago.

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