COVID-19 in OC: Region at risk of moving back to most restrictive purple tier as infection rate increases

SANTA ANA, Calif. (KABC) -- Orange County is headed in the wrong direction as a rise in COVID-19 infection rate is putting the region at risk of moving back to the state's most restrictive tier.

The county has held steady in the red tier for more than eight weeks. There was even a time when the county was getting close to entering the orange tier. But now, things are heading backwards toward the most restrictive purple tier.

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Although hospitalizations in Orange County have been on the decline, the daily case rate has continued to climb in the last couple of weeks, jumping from 4.6 per 100,000 two weeks ago to 5.1 last week to 6 this week. If the upward trend continues, the metric could soon land the region in the purple tier.

On Friday, the county reported 309 new coronavirus diagnoses and nine additional deaths as a result of COVID-19. The death toll stands at 1,503 and the cumulative case count is at 61,421.

"There seems almost to be a sort of sense of inevitability this is going to happen over the next couple of months," said Dr. Matthew Zahn, a medical director with the Orange County Health Care Agency.

The good news is that the positivity rate continues to hold steady in the orange tier as does the healthy equity rate in red.

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"With the exception of San Diego County, all of our neighboring counties are in the purple tier. As we get closer to the holiday season, it's vital that we remember to take care of our health," said Michelle Steel, O.C. supervisor.

Zahn says it's important for residents not to let their guards down.

"We can't lose sight of the fact that we've done well in the last two or three months. That's been a hugely important part of one, our community will be able to open up to go to the red tier, and two, to prevent serious illness and death in our community," Zahn said.

If Orange County were to revert back to the purple tier, a number of indoor operations would have to shut down again, including restaurant dining rooms, gyms, movie theaters and houses of worship. Indoor capacity would also tighten in other sectors.

"The holiday season is rapidly coming upon us. That part of the season for all of us, we all think of family gatherings, social gatherings, work gatherings. Unfortunately, we just have to think about those sorts of events differently because there really is a risk there," Zahn said.

If the daily case rate moves into the purple tier territory and stays there for two weeks straight, the county will then move into the purple tier, and all of the restrictions will be put back in place.

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