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Orange County Enters Orange Tier as COVID-19 Cases Decline

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Orange County moved to the moderate orange tier of the state’s Blueprint for a Safer Economy on March 31, allowing more businesses in the area to resume modified indoor operations as COVID-19 cases decline countywide.

This marks the first time the county has entered the orange tier since the Blueprint was implemented in August of last year. OC joins 31 more California counties in the tier, which together contain over 80% of the state’s population.

“Thanks to increased vaccination numbers and falling COVID case rates, Orange County has met the required metrics to move into the Orange Tier, effective Wednesday, March 31,” a statement on the county’s official Facebook page said. 

Entering the orange tier allows several categories of businesses to increase their indoor capacity. Facilities such as movie theaters, museums and places of worship can now operate at 50% indoor capacity, while gyms and fitness centers can allow 25% capacity.

Restaurants can also operate at 50% occupancy or with 200 people indoors at one time, contingent on which amount is fewer. Bars that do not serve food can open outdoors with modifications.

In addition, the tier signals that capacity requirements for retail and grocery stores are lifted entirely, and these businesses may operate as normal with protective modifications.

Amusement parks and theme parks can reopen at up to 25% capacity, including the Disneyland Resort in Anaheim which has scheduled its reopening for April 30

Despite these modifications, the tier strongly discourages indoor gatherings. Statewide safety guidelines, such as the mandatory mask order and the limiting of indoor social gatherings, remain in place.  

“Continued adherence to non-medical public health mitigation measures such as wearing a mask that covers your nose and mouth, washing hands frequently with soap and water, avoiding crowds and poorly ventilated indoor spaces, and practicing physical distancing from those outside your household will help limit the impact of variants circulating in Southern California, particularly as more indoor activities open and expand operations,” the county stated in a press release.

To qualify for the orange tier, a county must have between 2 and 5.9 daily new cases reported per 100,000 residents, between 2% and 4.9% positivity rate on COVID-19 tests countywide and less than a 5.3% positivity rate for the health equity quartile. These metrics must be upheld for two consecutive weeks in order to join the tier. 

As of April 10, Orange County has reported 74 daily positive COVID-19 cases among its more than 3 million residents, for a total of 252,120 cases since the beginning of the pandemic. According to tracking on the Blueprint for a Safer Economy website, the county currently has an adjusted case rate of 4.8 per 100,000 residents, a 1.7% positivity rate and a 2.1% health equity quartile positivity rate.

The overall decrease in reported cases has in part been attributed to county efforts to ramp up vaccination rates, including operating five major public points of dispensing and expanding eligibility in zip codes with significant health equity barriers.

The Orange County Health Agency’s (OCHA) vaccine distribution strategy, Operation Independence, anticipates vaccinating all of the county’s residents and workers by July 4.

According to an infographic by OCHA illustrating the plan, a key component of the distribution is targeting the “most difficult to reach populations including incarcerated persons, homeless, etc.” The county plans to continue using a combination of public and private dispensing methods to reach its goal.

As reported by the OCHA vaccination dashboard, 598,838 county residents have been fully vaccinated as of April 4.

According to a statement by Gov. Gavin Newsom, all California residents over the age of 16 will be eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine as early as April 15.

As of April 10, 37.3% of Californians have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine for a total of 22,063,939 shots administered.

After California reached a milestone of 20 million vaccine doses on April 6, Newsom announced at a press conference that the state’s tiered reopening system could be eliminated as early as June 15. The state has also informally announced plans to potentially introduce a less restrictive green tier to the Blueprint for a Safer Economy that would allow fewer modifications for businesses.

“It is incumbent upon all of us, not to announce mission accomplished, not to put down our guard, but to continue that vigilance that got us where we are today: the lowest case rates [and] positivity rates … in America,” Newsom said at the press conference. “We are seeing bright light at the end of the tunnel, and on June 15th, all things being equal, [if] we continue that good work, we’ll have moved beyond that Blueprint and we’ll be opening up this economy at business as usual.”

Ariana Keshishian is a City News Apprentice for the spring 2021 quarter. She can be reached at