By CBSLA Staff

SANTA ANA (CBSLA) — Less than a week after making it off the statewide COVID-19 watch list, Orange County is now in the worst level of the new tiered system for reopening that Gov. Newsom unveiled on Friday.

Now, county leaders are asking for more clarification from the state, as they geared up to get students back in the classroom after Labor Day.

Gov. Gavin Newsom on Friday unveiled a four-tier color-coded system to label the risk of COVID-19 spreading in the state’s various counties under plans for reopening businesses that were shuttered in July amid soaring coronavirus cases and hospitalizations.

MORE: Governor Newsom Announces New, Slower Reopening Plan

Under the system, county non-essential indoor business operations are closed if there are more than 7 daily new cases per 100,000. County risk drops to “substantial” when there are between 4 to 7 daily new cases per 100,000, according to the metric.

While Orange County is currently in the purple tier, which indicates that there is still widespread risk of infection, officials said they could soon move to the red tier.

“We are very close based on the last two weeks of data to almost be moving into red,” said Bartlett, who is also president of the California State Association of Counties.

County CEO Frank Kim said the state has said counties that were off the state’s watch list will get credit for the days they were off the list.

If Orange County can make it into the red tier — which would require its current numbers to hold steady until Sept. 8 — indoor dining will be able to begin reopening at a 25% capacity and, after two additional weeks, schools can resume in-person instruction.

So, in-classroom learning could resume by Sept. 23.

“We’ve got to hold there another week and then fingers crossed,” Kim said.

RELATED: Despite New State Guidelines, LA County Barbershops and Indoor Shopping Centers To Remain Closed

The state’s new tier system focuses more on case and positivity rates because more rapid testing has allowed public health professionals to more efficiently quarantine and address coronavirus hot spots. The previous system heavily monitored a county’s hospitalization rates and ICU beds in an effort to make sure the county was prepared for any sudden surges in the virus.

The system also more fairly classifies higher-population counties, Bartlett said, because there is less of a focus on overall case counts than in the previous classification system.

Hair salons are permitted to reopen on Monday statewide, and Bartlett said that Orange County will roll back restrictions to allow for this.

Salon Owner Andrea Orsi said she’s having her staff get ready for a rush.

“It’s been a rollercoaster,” she said. “Finally, we are so excited to start all over again.”

On Friday, Orange County reported nine more coronavirus-related fatalities, bringing the total death toll to 956. The county also reported 323 new cases, raising the total number of cases since the pandemic began to 47,792.

The nine deaths reported were spread out over the past few weeks, officials said. It is not uncommon for a lag in reporting of coronavirus-related deaths, according to the county.

The deadliest day for Orange County was Aug. 3, when 17 people died from virus-related complications.

Dr. Clayton Chau, director of the Orange County Health Care Agency and the county’s chief health officer, said the county’s main concern going forward is the potential for a “twindemic” as flu season approaches.

“People don’t think about flu shots until fall,” he said. “You might be surprised, but flu distribution has already started…We’re urging the community to get vaccinated to avoid the possibility of a twindemic.”

With Labor Day around the corner, officials are also worried about a spike in cases emerging from the holiday weekend, Chau said.

“I’m not the only one,” Chau said. “Most all health officers for other counties up and down the state worry about that. We truly encourage people to have a party through Skype and FaceTime and really just stay home if you don’t really need to be out.”

(© Copyright 2020 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. City News Service contributed to this report.)


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