Op/Ed: Keep Up the Downward Pressure

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Will O’Neill

By Will O’Neill, Newport Beach City Councilmember and Mayor in 2020

As I write this on Tuesday, March 2, Orange County just barely missed its first week in the Governor’s red tier.

Folks would be forgiven if they have forgotten how the color-code tier system works. Basically, counties are scored on three metrics: average daily positive cases out of 100k; positivity percentage of COVID tests; and a health equity metric.  Each is measured on a seven-day average based on data ending seven days prior to the release date.

There are four tiers, with purple (tier 1) being worst, then red, orange, and yellow. The Governor has tied various societal re-openings to where counties fall in the tiers.  Fortunately, Orange County’s positivity rate and health equity metrics have dropped dramatically and are now in the orange (3rd) tier.

Our county’s adjusted case rate is at 7.6, but needs to be below 7 to reach the red tier.  Given the staggering drop in cases over the past few weeks, we can likely expect that Orange County’s metrics this coming Tuesday, March 9, will start our first of two necessary weeks in the red tier before restaurants can reopen to 25 percent indoor capacity, etc.

We have also seen a tremendous drop in hospitalizations. Orange County peaked in early January at 2,250+ patients hospitalized and 547 patients in the ICU. We have now dropped below 430 COVID+ patients hospitalized and 116 in the ICU.

Orange County mortalities remain concentrated in the 65+ demographics. Despite representing only 15.7 percent of Orange County’s population, people 65+ represent 76+ percent of COVID deaths. Which is exactly why the vaccine priority has focused on people 65+. Given the demographics of skilled nursing facilities, it also helps explain why 25 percent of Orange County’s total deaths have come in skilled nursing facilities (56 percent here in Newport Beach).

I remain thankful for the hard work of our health care workers, especially those at our largest provider, Hoag Hospital.

And I am thankful for everyone here in Newport Beach who have taken the pandemic seriously and adjusted their risk tolerances based on the information being provided.  Our case rate/100k ranks us near the bottom of the County, ranking 29th of 34 cities, well behind some of our peer cities Costa Mesa (11), Tustin (13), Yorba Linda (16), and Huntington Beach (21). Even behind South Orange County cities like Lake Forest (23) and Aliso Viejo (27).

With the vaccine rollout progressing and Newport Beach’s approach of community education proving effective, we have hope on the horizon. Now if only we could get Disneyland open to ease the upcoming crowds on our beaches and get tens of thousands of people employed again.


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