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OC's COVID-19 Numbers Continue Encouraging Trends

SANTA ANA (CBSLA) - Orange County's encouraging COVID-19 trends have continued with 42 new infections reported and hospitalizations at rates not seen since the beginning of the pandemic.

The new cases boosted the cumulative total to 255,413.

Hospitalizations dropped have dropped from 59 Friday to 42d the number of intensive care unit patients decreased from 16 to 13.

Hospitalizations "fluctuate up and down, but there's a clear downward trend," Orange County Supervisor Lisa Bartlett said Wednesday. "We're trending in the right direction. If there was something like a gold or platinum tier, we'd be there by now."

Five fatalities were logged Saturday, bringing the overall death toll to 5,078.

The death toll for May stands at 10, 41 for April, 185 in March, 583 in February and 1,548 for January, the deadliest month during the pandemic, and 959 for December, the next deadliest.

Another 11,537 COVID-19 tests were reported, bringing the county's total to 3,953,225.

The county's weekly average of tests per 100,000 is 233.1.

According to weekly state data released every Tuesday, the average for the county's daily case rate per 100,000 residents dropped from 1.3 to 0.9. The overall test positivity rate improved from 0.8% to 0.6%, and the county's Health Equity Quartile rate, which measures positivity in hot spots in disadvantaged communities, remained at 0.7%.

Those numbers guaranteed the county remained in the least-restrictive yellow tier. The state is getting ready to scrap its tier system for reopening the economy during the pandemic.

"We're excited about June 15 and what it means technically, but until (Gov. Gavin Newsom) makes that announcement, we don't know what the caveats will be," Bartlett said.

Meanwhile, the board of the California Occupational Safety and Health Administration, or Cal-OSHA, voted Thursday night to revise state rules as of June 15 -- allowing employees to shed masks in the workplace, but only if everyone in the room is fully vaccinated against COVID-19. The board said the move was a stopgap while it considers further easing of rules in the coming weeks and months.

Andrew Noymer, a UC Irvine professor of population health and disease prevention, said he agreed with the policy.

"What they're trying to do is dangle a huge carrot in terms of vaccination and that carrot is that you can take off your mask at work if everyone in the office is vaccinated," Noymer told City News Service on Friday.

"But my point is, it's going to make very little difference during the summertime whether people follow these rules or not," Noymer said.

Noymer predicted the summer months will be mild in terms of coronavirus transmission, but the infections will pick up in the fall when temperatures drop, forcing people into more indoor activity and students return to school.

When the state drops its tiered system of restrictions in mid-June a lot of residents may not notice much difference when it comes to face coverings, Noymer said.

"When the governor gets in front of the television cameras and says no more masking June 15, he means private individuals when they're going about their own business, but in the workplace, they're still governed by workplace rules," Noymer said.

Retail businesses will likely continue requiring face coverings because it will be difficult to determine if everyone is vaccinated, Noymer said. Private businesses can enforce mask rules if they want to, he added.

"No short, no shoes, no service," he said. " I don't think there's a California statute that says you have to wear a shirt if you go to McDonald's, but it's McDonald's policy. I think the businesses will reserve the right to do that as well."

He added, "I basically think it's good policy. I think Cal OSHA is trying to keep California workers safe. ... It's a little conservative in terms of masking, but it's also dangling a huge carrot in terms of vaccination."

Meanwhile, Noymer said the latest statistics in the county are "excellent."

Orange County CEO Frank Kim said earlier this week that the numbers "are looking pretty good."

County officials have seen an overall decline in demand for vaccinations, but, on the other hand, they are having success reaching many residents with mobile vaccination centers, particularly with the one in Santa Ana serving clients of CalOptima, the county's insurance for low-income residents, Kim said.

"They were doing over 1,000 (vaccinations) a day," Kim said of mobile vaccine points of distribution.

Orange County officially entered the least-restrictive yellow tier of the reopening blueprint on May 19, which allowed for greater attendance for many businesses such as movie theaters and gyms, while museums, zoos and aquariums were allowed to open at full capacity. For the first time, bars and distilleries were able to open indoors, and theme parks such as Disneyland could expand attendance.

(© Copyright 2021 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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