First schools in OC reopen following county's removal from state's COVID-19 watch list

Some Orange County schools opened their doors Wednesday for the first time in months following the county's removal from California's COVID-19 watch list.
Some Orange County schools opened their doors Wednesday for the first time in months, with even more students possibly returning to classrooms following the county's removal from California's COVID-19 watch list.

O.C. was removed from the list Sunday. The state mandates a county must be off the list for 15 days before all schools can reopen.

Fairmont Schools were among dozens given permission to reopen.

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Lucerne Valley Elementary School is offering a hybrid model and limiting class size when it welcomes back students next week.



"We have given the option to our families, to either be in-class, in-person or keep their children remote," said Chad Jackson, president of Fairmont Schools

Dr. Clayton Chau, the county's interim chief health officer and director of the Orange County Health Care Agency, said it's possible all K-12 schools in the county could offer in-person instruction by September.

Chau told the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday that he was "optimistically confident'' that the county will remain off the state's watch list.

The California Department of Public Health released new guidance earlier this month that would allow some elementary schools in counties on the monitoring list to apply for waivers to resume in-person instruction.

The decision to reopen schools will be left up to each of the county's school districts.

Chau said 39 elementary schools in the county have won approval for waivers to reopen for in-classroom learning. That includes the six in the Los Alamitos School District and the rest are private, he added.

CALLS TO REOPEN BUSINESSESES



However, Supervisor Lisa Bartlett said coming off the state's watch list does not mean the state will also reopen various businesses for indoor commerce such as personal services, shopping malls, restaurants and bars.

"I think it's important to clarify what that means, because a lot of individuals and businesses think that once we get through this 14-day wait period that we can open everything up again,'' she said.

"The only sector that can reopen is the schools,'' Chau replied.

But Chau said he is "hopeful'' the state will issue new guidelines soon to reopen some of the closed businesses.

"There's a conversation between the state health officer and all the other county health officers on how do we reopen the other business sectors safely,'' he said.

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Orange County Supervisor Don Wagner questioned why "If it's OK to reopen the schools... why can't we get some of the other sectors reopened.''

Chau said it was a "pleasant surprise'' that many counties on the state's watch list have been trending in the right direction.

"The cycle is happening a bit quicker than we expected it, which is good, and, so I don't think we were prepared to have that conversation of when the county was getting off the monitoring list,'' Chau said. So what we don't want to repeat is the same mistake we did in May where we're reopening a whole bunch of businesses and then causing a large transmission.''

Wagner said he was a little surprised that schools will be paving the way when there are so many other sectors that are really hurting. But the governor will do what the governor will do and logic be damned.''

Chau noted that while overall the county is doing well enough to get off the state's watch list, there are still some ZIP codes that have positivity rates as high as 17% to 21%.

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Orange County could be placed back on the watch 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.

OC'S COVID-19 CASES



Health officials reported Tuesday that 15 more people succumbed to COVID-19 in the county, hiking the death toll to 912. Officials also reported 335 new cases of coronavirus, raising the cumulative total to 46,642.

However, the 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 5.3%, below the state's desired threshold of 8%.

Hospitalizations edged down from 388 Monday to 385, with the number of intensive care unit patients decreasing from 116 to 113.

The county's case rate per 100,000 residents dropped from 85.1 to 83.3, which is still far higher than the California Department of Public Health threshold of 25 per 100,000 residents.

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The county has 33% 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 change in three-day average of hospitalized patients stands at -3%, much lower than the 10% state standard.

The OCHCA reported that 605,495 COVID-19 tests have been conducted, including 8,108 reported on Monday. There have been 38,450 documented recoveries.

And a new "super site'' for COVID-19 testing like the one at Anaheim Convention Center will open Wednesday at the Orange County Fairgrounds in Costa Mesa, officials announced Tuesday.

City News Service contributed to this report.
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