COVID-19 update: Health officials are learning about the Omicron variant, which is confirmed in California

OCDE continues to track the latest developments related to COVID-19 while following guidance from the California Department of Public Health and the Orange County Health Care Agency. Below is our running digest, with newer stories posted at the top.

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Updated at 11:15 a.m. on Dec. 1, 2021

State and local health officials say they’re learning about the Omicron variant, which is confirmed in California

A new COVID-19 variant that goes by the name Omicron has a number of mutations that could impact how contagious it is and the ability of immune systems to protect from infection, according to a fact sheet released this week by the California Department of Public Health. 

Some of Omicron’s mutations are concerning to scientists because they differ greatly from previously identified variants. But it’s not yet known if Omicron causes more severe COVID-19 illness than other variants or how it might respond to treatment, the CDPH says.

California confirmed the nation’s first reported case of the Omicron variant on Wednesday.

In preparation for its arrival, the CDPH has been taking a number of steps, including monitoring for the variant through the California SARS-CoV-2 Whole Genome Sequencing Initiative — known as COVIDNet — and partnering with the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to gather information.

Meanwhile, public health officials say there are four specific actions that can be taken by all Californians to help slow the spread of COVID-19, including the Omicron variant. They include getting vaccinated, wearing masks in indoor public spaces, getting tested if you’re experiencing symptoms and staying home if you’re sick.

In a statement released Tuesday by the Orange County Health Care Agency, Deputy County Health Officer Dr. Regina Chinsio-Kwong said new versions of the virus will continue to emerge as long as there are large proportions of people who are unvaccinated.

“Please know that vaccination remains the most effective way to reduce everyone’s risk of getting sick, being hospitalized or dying from COVID-19,” Dr. Chinsio-Kwong said. “Over 90 percent of people who are hospitalized due to COVID continue to be those who are unvaccinated. With vaccines widely available throughout Orange County, we strongly encourage you to complete your recommended shots if you are not fully vaccinated or are eligible to receive a booster dose.”

You can read more about Omicron variant and find a timeline of developments in the CDPH’s latest fact sheet. For information on how to get vaccinated locally, visit the HCA’s COVIDVaccineFacts.com website and click on “Find a COVID-19 Vaccine.” 

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Updated at 5:25 p.m. on Nov. 3, 2021

CDC recommends pediatric COVID-19 vaccine for children ages 5 to 11

Kids ages 5 to 11 are now eligible for the pediatric COVID-19 vaccine.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced Tuesday that it was recommending that children in that age group get the vaccine produced by Pfizer-BioNTech, which was granted emergency-use authorization by the Food and Drug Administration four days earlier.

That means doses will soon be widely available for 5- to 11-year-olds — with parental consent — at local doctor’s offices, clinics and pharmacies. But COVID-19 vaccines aren’t yet required for students on school campuses, and the timetable remains tentative. 

Remember that the phased vaccine mandate announced by Gov. Gavin Newsom on Oct. 1 starts with children ages 12 to 15, and it kicks in only after the FDA lifts its emergency use authorization and grants full and final approval. 

If that occurs in January 2022 or in the months that follow, the earliest the mandate could take effect is July 1, impacting upper-grade students on public and private school campuses at the start of the 2022-23 school year. 

A subsequent phase would apply to children ages 5 to 11. But again, it can’t start until after the FDA fully approves the vaccine for this age group. Moreover, as EdSource reported, personal belief exemptions must be allowed for all age groups as long as the regulation remains outside of the legislative process.

So far, federal officials have only approved the Pfizer-BioNTech for individuals 16 years and older. Here’s a quick look at the approval status of the three major vaccines in the United States:

Authorized for Pfizer-BioNTechModernaJ&J
4 years and underNoNoNo
5-11 years oldYesNoNo
12-17 years oldYes*NoNo
18 years and olderYes*YesYes
* full FDA approval has been granted for ages for 16 and up (Source: U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)

Finalizing preparations

Noting independent reviews of the data from the Western States Scientific Safety Review Workgroup and the California Department of Public Health, the OC Health Care Agency on Wednesday said it was finalizing preparations to offer the Pfizer vaccine to families of children ages 5 to 11.

“We expect the vaccine to be available at our mobile clinics within the next few days and through other regular vaccine distribution channels as well,” said County Health Officer Dr. Clayton Chau, who is also the HCA director. “We ask for our community’s patience as we and other providers prepare to make the vaccine available to the newly eligible age group.”

Unlike last spring’s campaign to help reopen campuses by offering voluntary vaccinations for school-based employees, OCDE isn’t planning to host school-based clinics. But schools and districts may choose to do so on their own. 

Dr. Chau said his agency will “continue to work closely with our local healthcare providers to host future vaccine clinics and connecting schools who are interested in setting up their own clinics with the CDPH.”

For more information on how to get a COVID-19 vaccine, visit the state’s My Turn website or the Orange County Health Care Agency’s website.

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Updated at 3:22 p.m. on Oct. 28, 2021

State to continue school mask requirement, will monitor conditions through winter

Calling for continued vigilance to prevent COVID-19 transmission in schools, California health officials announced this week that the indoor mask mandate for students and staff will remain in place as the state monitors conditions through the winter.

In July, the California Department of Public Health released updated guidance for K-12 schools that requires students and staff to wear face coverings while they’re indoors on school campuses. At that time, the CDPH said it would decide by Nov. 1 whether to update or eliminate its mask requirements.

In a joint statement issued Wednesday, California Health and Human Services Agency Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly and CDPH Director Dr. Tomás Aragón said masking requirements, coupled with vaccinations and regular testing, have been key to keeping schools open, with California accounting for less than 1 percent of all school closures nationwide. They further noted that while infection rates are decreasing overall, hospital capacity remains impacted in some regions, and approximately 80 Californians die of COVID-19 on average each day. As such, they called for ongoing vigilance and said face covering requirements will continue beyond Nov. 1.

“Recent studies from the 2021-2022 school year confirm that schools with universal masking requirements are less likely to experience outbreaks, and that areas of the United States without school mask mandates experienced larger increases in pediatric COVID-19 case rates after the school year began, compared to areas with school mask requirements,” the statement said. “Consistent with the guidance, California continues to assess conditions on an ongoing basis to determine whether to update mask requirements or recommendations.”

Face coverings for student-athletes

The Orange County Health Care Agency has confirmed that student-athletes won’t have to wear coverings while competing in some indoor sports if they receive weekly PCR or antigen testing.

The CDPH and the California Interscholastic Federation recently announced a new policy that allows testing in lieu of mask-wearing, but it also requires approval from each county’s health department. The OC Health Care Agency signaled its approval by determining that wearing masks while participating in basketball, volleyball, water sports, wrestling, competitive cheerleading and gymnastics “has the potential to pose a choking hazard.”

“As such, these activities are waived from (the) California Department of Public Health (CDPH) requirement for indoor mask use, for students during play,” the agency said in a statement.

According to the HCA, when students are not playing, masks must be worn on the sidelines, regardless of a negative test. The agency recommends that players be tested on Fridays to allow for planning for the following week should any test come back positive.

If two teams are playing from counties with differing protocols, schools must comply with the guidance of the county they’re located in — or the guidance of the county where the contest is being played if it’s more restrictive, according to a letter from CIF.

For the latest on the state’s COVID-19 measures, visit schools.covid19.ca.gov.

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Updated at 3:42 p.m. on Oct. 21, 2021

Vaccine for kids ages 5 to 11 will be available through Health Care Agency, medical providers when approved

Reports suggest a COVID-19 vaccine for children ages 5 to 11 is close to winning federal approval — perhaps within the next few weeks. But unlike the drive to help school employees get vaccinated last spring, the Orange County Department of Education isn’t planning to host clinics at local schools.

OCDE will instead encourage families interested in getting the vaccine to sign up through the Orange County Health Care Agency, pharmacies or their preferred medical providers once the shot is authorized by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.   

“While we will continue to assist the OC Health Care Agency with its efforts to share information about voluntary COVID-19 vaccinations, we are not hosting school-based vaccination clinics for students or community members,” Orange County Superintendent Al Mijares said. “For families who choose to get their children vaccinated, we believe the safest manner is through licensed and fully-staffed facilities. Above all, we recognize that families are responsible for making important health care decisions on behalf of their children with guidance from licensed medical professionals.”

In February and March, OCDE collaborated with the OC Health Care Agency and local school districts to establish on-site vaccination clinics for school employees at multiple campuses. More than 20,000 doses were voluntarily administered to educators and support staff as part of a broader effort to reopen school campuses for in-person learning.

With schools now fully open across the county, the department said it will defer to local health officials and medical providers to host COVID-19 vaccination clinics for children and families. School districts, which operate independently under their elected school boards and superintendents, are advised to work directly with the Orange County Health Care Agency if they wish to host their own clinics.

To date, the FDA has issued full approval of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for individuals 16 years and older. The Pfizer vaccine remains under emergency use authorization for children 12 to 15 years old, and no vaccines are authorized yet for children ages 5 to 11. Parental consent is required for anyone under 18 to get vaccinated.

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Updated at 12:15 p.m. on Oct. 1, 2021

Governor announces phased-in COVID-19 vaccination requirement for students

Governor Gavin Newsom on Friday announced a phased approach for requiring COVID-19 vaccinations for K-12 students, laying out a timeline that begins when federal officials grant full approval for doses to younger age groups.

At a morning news conference, Newsom said the first phase of the mandate calls for students in grades seven through 12 who attend public or private schools in person to be vaccinated at the start of a new semester. But the requirement won’t kick in until after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration lifts its emergency use authorization and issues full and final approval to vaccines for children 12 to 15.

For example, if the FDA issues full approval in January 2022 or in months that follow, phase one of the mandate will take effect the following July, impacting upper-grade students in time for the fall 2022 semester. If federal officials act sooner, which is considered less likely, the mandate could potentially begin in January.

California Gavin Newsom
California Gavin Newsom speaks during a news conference on Friday.

In the initial phase, all K-12 school employees will also be required to be vaccinated against COVID-19. But medical, personal and religious exemptions will be allowed for students and staff, the governor said.

In a subsequent phase, once the FDA has officially approved the vaccine for younger children, a similar mandate will apply to students in kindergarten through grade six.

“Currently we have, in the state of California, administered at least one dose to 63.5 percent of all of our young cohort ages 12 to 17, but we have to do more,” he said, adding that 84 percent of eligible candidates across all age groups have received at least one shot in California.

The mandate was billed Friday as the first of its kind in the nation. At the same time, the governor said some districts may choose to act sooner in requiring eligible candidates to get vaccinated.

“We have no trepidation, no hesitancy, in encouraging local districts to move forward more expeditiously,” he said.

No vaccines yet for younger children

So far, the FDA has issued full approval of the Pfizer vaccine for individuals 16 years and older. However, the vaccine continues to be under emergency use authorization for children 12 to 15 years of age. As we’ve noted before, parental consent is required for anyone under 18 to get vaccinated, and no vaccines are authorized yet for children 5 to 11 years of age.

Newsom noted that California schoolchildren are already required to present proof of 10 vaccinations before they can attend school in person, including polio, measles, mumps, rubella and chickenpox. This would be the 11th, he said.

Locally elected school boards and district superintendents are generally responsible for approving and implementing school safety plans with input from their stakeholders. But those plans must meet or exceed the standards set by the California Department of Public Health and spelled out in the governor’s executive orders.

Local agencies remain vigilant  

This year, face coverings must be worn by all students and staff while they’re indoors at school, and staff members have to show proof of vaccination against COVID-19 or get tested weekly. The state has also issued quarantine guidance that varies based on vaccination status and whether one or both parties is wearing a mask.

“Since March 2020, the Orange County Department of Education has been working closely with state and local public health officials to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in our schools and communities,” Orange County Superintendent of Schools Dr. Al Mijares said.

“The health and safety of students and staff remain our top priority, and we remain vigilant knowing this pandemic is not yet over. By law and by practice, OCDE will continue to follow and share directives from the California Department of Public Health, the Governor’s Office and the Orange County Health Care Agency as part of our mission to provide support to the local school districts and communities we serve.”

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Updated at 10:58 a.m. on Sept. 2, 2021

State updates school guidance to include extracurricular activities, including sports

The California Department of Public Health on Wednesday revised its school guidance to cover extracurricular activities, including athletics and music.

The updated version of the COVID-19 Public Health Guidance for K-12 Schools in California states that its provisions apply to all extracurricular activities that are operated or supervised by schools regardless of whether they occur during school hours, including sports, band, chorus and clubs.

Newly added language affirms that masks are required for athletes playing indoor sports unless wearing a mask during play has been determined to pose a choking hazard by a “well-recognized health authority, such as the American Academy of Pediatrics.”

The guidance also states that if a student cannot play their musical instrument while wearing a mask — it cites wind instruments as an example — or in instances where a face covering poses a choking hazard for the student, school officials must pursue one of three options:

  1. The activity can be performed outdoors.
  2. Students can use modified face coverings and bell coverings for wind and brass instruments while maintaining 6 feet of physical distancing.
  3. Or the players must get tested at least once a week with either PCR testing or antigen testing. This requirement applies to all participants, including those who are fully vaccinated, and schools will have until Sept. 27 to be in compliance.

The CDPH guidance further clarifies a section on modified quarantines for students wearing masks, confirming that it applies to indoor or outdoor exposures. A subsequent section on quarantine lengths was also revised to confirm that it applies to students in either modified or standard quarantines.

State health officials say they will continue to assess conditions on an ongoing basis and will decide by Nov. 1 whether to update mask requirements or recommendations. In the meantime, the current guidance can be found on the California Department of Public Health website.

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Updated at 11:05 a.m. on Sept. 1, 2021

Free COVID-19 testing kits are available to OC schools and businesses

The Orange County Health Care Agency is offering COVID-19 testing kits at no cost to all Orange County schools and businesses.

The HCA has three kinds of test kits available for distribution:

  • Ambry test kits. These at-home/self-collection saliva tests are intended to be handed out to requesting individuals who can then send their samples back to the lab for processing. Shipping is prepaid, and results are usually accessible online within 48 hours. FAQs can be found at https://oc.care.ambrygen.com/#/cit/landing.
  • Fulgent’s Picture test kits. These at-home/self-collection nostril tests are intended to be handed out to requesting individuals who then send their samples to the lab for processing. Shipping is prepaid, and results are usually accessible online within 48 hours. FAQs can be found at https://picturegenetics.com/covid19?c=OCPROMO.
  • Abbott BinaxNOW. This is an antigen test intended for healthcare provider use and can be used for serial testing. Results are available in 15 minutes, but a positive result must be followed up with a PCR test.

How to obtain testing kits

For the Ambry test kits, school or district leaders should contact John Otten, director of Business Development at Ambry Genetics, at 513-519-0477 or jotten@ambrygen.com. The website is www.AmbryGen.com.

Fulgent and Abbott tests may be ordered in bulk while supplies last by submitting a resource request form to the Health Care Agency Operations Center at AOCResourceRequestLead@ochca.com.

Information about single self-collection tests is available at occovid19.ochealthinfo.com/covid-19-testing.

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Updated at 7:55 p.m. on Aug. 23, 2021

State public health officer warns of legal, financial risks for school officials who ignore masking requirements

Failure to enforce masking requirements at school doesn’t just jeopardize the health and safety of students, staff and families, it also carries significant legal and financial risks, the state’s top health official wrote in a letter released Monday.

Signed by State Public Health Officer Dr. Tomás J. Aragón and published on the California Department of Public Health website, the letter was framed as a restatement of long-standing policy rather than new guidance.

“For the vast majority of school officials who are implementing the universal mask requirement, this letter serves only to confirm they have taken some of the appropriate measures to mitigate health, legal, and financial risks,” wrote Aragón, who is director of the CDPH.

Aragón said schools could face “significant financial liability” if a student or staff member contracts COVID-19 in the absence of universal masking enforcement. Certificated staff — including teachers and school administrators — could also be referred for disciplinary action, he said, and school officials could be subject to fines or civil enforcement by local health officers.

While mask requirements have been in place for public and private schools since January, the CDPH updated its guidance in July, calling for all students and staff to mask up while indoors on campus. Face coverings are encouraged but not required outdoors.

Aragón noted there is strong consensus among public health and medical experts that masks are an effective strategy to help prevent the transmission of COVID-19. He also said opposition to masking requirements is based on misinformation.

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Academy of Pediatrics “have issued guidance that recommends precisely the approach that California has taken,” Aragón wrote.

California’s cases have increased 14-fold in less than three months, rising to the current rate of ​​28.4 new cases per 100,000 people per day. Hospitalizations have increased more than 700 percent in the past two months and are projected to continue to increase, according to the CDPH.

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Updated at 12:57 p.m. on Aug. 19, 2021

State medical board says it may take disciplinary action against illegitimate mask exemptions

The Medical Board of California issued a statement this week affirming that a physician who grants a mask exemption without conducting a proper exam and finding a legitimate medical reason may be subjecting their license to disciplinary action.

The state agency, which licenses medical doctors and investigates complaints against physicians, said it encourages the public to file a complaint if they believe a physician is granting mask exemptions inappropriately.

The California Medical Association, which represents nearly 50,000 physicians in the state, similarly stated in a blog post that it “was deeply troubled by reports that a few rogue physicians have decided to ignore the science surrounding the spread of COVID-19 and place the lives of children and their families in danger.”

“There are very few medical reasons and situations that would exempt an individual from masking requirements,” said CMA President Peter N. Bretan, Jr., M.D. “It strains credulity to think that a single physician would have dozens or hundreds of patients with valid medical claims for such an exemption. Unfortunately, we know there are bad actors who are willing to operate outside the accepted standards of care in order to turn a personal profit. This needs to stop.”

The California Department of Public Health says K-12 students are required to wear masks indoors at school unless specific exemptions apply. Those who cannot wear a face covering because of a medical condition must wear a non-restrictive alternative, such as a face shield with a drape on the bottom, according to CDPH guidance.

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Updated at 2:31 p.m. on Aug. 16, 2021

School safety protocols must meet or exceed state standards. Here’s a quick look at what’s required

More Orange County school districts are back in session this week, and while it’s not exactly business as usual, the vast majority of students will be in classrooms for in-person instruction five days a week.

As we’ve shared previously, locally elected school boards and district superintendents are responsible for approving and implementing school safety plans with input from their stakeholders. But those plans must meet or exceed the standards set by the California Department of Public Health.

Here’s a quick snapshot of what the CDPH requires:

  • Face coverings must be worn by all students and staff while they’re indoors at school. Adults who are vaccinated may remove their masks if students are not present. Masks are not required outdoors, but they are encouraged.
  • Physical distancing is encouraged but it’s no longer required based on space limitations.
  • All school employees must show proof of vaccination against COVID-19 or get tested on a weekly basis. That public health order took effect on Aug. 12, but schools will have until Oct. 15 to be in full compliance.
  • Following close contacts, quarantines — or modified quarantines — will vary based on vaccination status and whether one or both parties is wearing a mask. Details can be found in the CDPH’s COVID-19 Public Health Guidance for K-12 Schools. (If any symptoms occur within 14 days of an exposure, the exposed person must isolate, get tested and contact their health care provider.)

State health officials have also issued a set of questions and answers covering vaccinations, masking and quarantine guidance for the 2021-22 school year. But keep in mind that individual school districts can choose to go above and beyond what’s required by the state, so be sure to check your local district’s website.

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Updated at 1:02 p.m. on Aug. 11, 2021

State to require all school staff to show proof of vaccination or submit to weekly COVID-19 testing

The state Department of Public Health on Wednesday issued a new public health order requiring school employees to show proof of vaccination against COVID-19 or get tested on a weekly basis.

The public health order, which is the first of its kind in the nation, takes effect on Aug. 12, but schools will have until Oct. 15 to be in full compliance.

According to the state health officials, case rates in California have increased tenfold since early June, rising to 22.7 new cases per 100,000 people per day. In Orange County, Wednesday’s adjusted daily case rate was 19 per 100,000 residents.

The OCDE Newsroom has the full story.

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Updated at 1:25 p.m. on July 28, 2021

California now urges fully vaccinated people to wear masks when indoors in public spaces

Following the lead of federal health officials, the California Department of Public Health on Wednesday recommended that fully vaccinated people mask up in indoor public spaces.

While masks continue to be a requirement for unvaccinated individuals in indoor public settings and businesses, the CDPH said the new measure adds another precautionary layer to help reduce the spread of COVID-19, especially in communities with the highest transmission rates. Local health jurisdictions can choose to be more restrictive.

“The Delta variant has caused a sharp increase in hospitalizations and case rates across the state,” said Dr. Tomás Aragón, CDPH director and state public health officer, said in a statement. “We are recommending masking in indoor public places to slow the spread while we continue efforts to get more Californians vaccinated.”

Vaccines against COVID-19 have proven highly effective at preventing serious disease, but about 15 percent of Californians don’t yet have the option to get vaccinated, including children under 12. The CDPH says the Delta variant is two times more contagious than early coronavirus variants and now accounts for more than 80 percent of new COVID-19 cases.

On Tuesday, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention began recommending that fully vaccinated people wear masks indoors in public if they’re in areas with substantial or high transmission.

Regardless of vaccination status, face coverings remain a requirement for all students when they’re inside on school campuses and for adults when they’re indoors at school and in the presence of students.

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Updated at 7:34 p.m. on July 27, 2021

CDC says vaccinated should wear masks indoors in public where transmission is high

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is now recommending that fully vaccinated people wear masks indoors in public if they’re in areas with substantial or high transmission.

That includes Orange County, which is home to high transmission, and most of California, according to the CDC’s COVID Data Tracker.

The CDC, which had relaxed its masking recommendations for fully vaccinated individuals in May, said it was now changing course to maximize protection from the rapidly spreading Delta variant. The California Department of Public Health, which sets the rules for the state, was reviewing the new federal language, according to the Los Angeles Times.

In June, the CDPH announced that face coverings would no longer be required in most spaces for Californians who were fully vaccinated. But there were some notable exceptions, including indoors in K-12 schools, childcare facilities and other youth settings.

The most recent state guidance for schools, published on July 12, states that K-12 students are required to mask up indoors “with exemptions per CDPH face-mask guidance” and that adults in school settings must wear masks when they share indoor spaces with students.

On Tuesday, the CDC also revised its school recommendations, calling for universal indoor masking for all teachers, staff, students and visitors to schools, regardless of their vaccination status. The new language more closely resembles California’s guidance.

Federal officials further underscored that wearing a mask is extremely important for people with underlying medical conditions, as well as those who live with someone who has a weakened immune system, is at increased risk for severe disease, or is unvaccinated.

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Updated at 1:21 p.m. on July 26, 2021

Governor: State employees, health care workers must show proof of vaccination or get tested regularly

State workers and health care employees will soon be required to show proof of full vaccination or be tested at least once a week under new measures announced Monday by Gov. Gavin Newsom.

California is encouraging local governments and other employers to adopt a similar protocol as COVID-19 case rates and hospitalizations spike, fueled by the Delta variant. But Newsom said the new policy will not apply to K-12 educators or school staff, noting that the state recently released new guidance for schools.

Gavin NewsomGov. Gavin Newsom announces new COVID-19 mitigation measures during a news conference in Alameda County.

“As it relates to guidelines in the schools, we’ll continue to work with our local districts and encourage more (voluntary vaccinations), but so far we’ve just required mask wearing and a series of other guidelines that have been published and updated recently as it relates to this fall session,” the governor said.

California will require health care settings to verify that workers are fully vaccinated or tested regularly. Unvaccinated workers will be subject to at least weekly COVID-19 testing and they will have to wear appropriate personal protective equipment. Newsom said the requirement also applies to high-risk congregate settings like adult and senior residential facilities, homeless shelters and jails.

The new policy for state workers is set to take effect Aug. 2, and testing will be phased in over the next few weeks, according to a news release. The policy for health care workers and congregate facilities will take effect on Aug. 9.

“We are sincere in our belief and desire that we need to step things up at this stage of the pandemic,” Newsom said during Monday’s news conference. “Our projections are sobering. Our projections over the course of the next number of weeks will show a significant increase in hospitalizations if we continue down this path.”

California leads the nation in vaccinations, with more than 44 million doses administered and 75 percent of the eligible population having received at least one dose. But the state is again reporting elevated rates of ICU admissions and deaths, citing the growth of the Delta variant.

As of last week, California’s daily case rate per 100,000 residents more than quadrupled to 9.5 from a low of 1.9 in May. The testing positivity rate, which hit a low of 0.7 percent in June, has risen to 5.2 percent.

Hospitalizations fell below 900 in June but are now approaching 3,000. The state says a vast majority of new cases are unvaccinated individuals, who have case rates that are about 600 percent higher than those who are vaccinated.

Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly said more needs to be done “to fight disinformation and encourage vaccine-hesitant communities and individuals.”

“The Delta variant is up to 60 percent more infectious than the Alpha strain but many times more infectious than the original COVID-19 strain,” Ghaly said. “If you have been waiting to get vaccinated, now is the time.”

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Updated at 10:15 a.m. on July 14, 2021

State releases updated guidance for K-12 schools

The California Department of Public Health (CDPH) this week released updated guidance for K-12 schools reflecting the latest K-12 recommendations from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The latest state guidance serves a mandated public health directive, which all California K-12 schools must be in compliance with to provide a pathway for students to return to a traditional, five-days per week, in-person academic model of instruction.

Below is brief summary:

California will continue to require that masks be worn by students and adults indoors in school settings when in the presence of students. Physical distancing is not required due to limited space in California schools. Layered mitigation strategies — such as screening testing, ventilation, hand-washing and respiratory etiquette, staying home when sick and getting tested, contact tracing in combination with quarantine and isolation, and cleaning and disinfection — are effective ways to keep schools safe.

The CDPH said it will continue to assess conditions and will determine no later than Nov. 1 whether to update or eliminate mask requirements or recommendations.

You can read the CDPH’s updated guidance for more information.

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Updated at 11:15 a.m. on July 9, 2021

Despite new CDC guidance, California says students will continue to wear masks while indoors at school

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Friday updated its guidance for schools advising that only those who aren’t fully vaccinated need to wear masks. However, California says students will be keeping their masks on while indoors.

According to a press release from the California Department of Public Health, which provides a foundational basis for local health guidelines, the state will continue to prioritize mask wearing for all teachers and students while indoors, but will not recommend physical distancing due to the barriers it would present to in-person instruction.

“There’s no substitute for in-person instruction, and today’s CDC guidance clearly reinforces that as a top priority, issuing recommendations for how schools throughout the country can get there,” said Dr. Tomás Aragón, director of the California Department of Public Health and State Public Health Officer. “Here in California, we’ll get there through continued masking and robust testing capacity.”

In contrast, under the new CDC guidance, federal health officials recommend that masks should be worn indoors by all individuals (age 2 and older) who are not fully vaccinated and that schools maintain at least 3 feet of physical distance between students within classrooms, combined with indoor mask wearing by people who are not fully vaccinated.

The CDPH says it is carefully reviewing the CDC recommendations and plans to release state K-12 school guidance on Monday, July 12.

For additional information on the new CDC guidance, visit the CDC website.

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Updated at 4:16 p.m. on June 9, 2021

State eases face covering rules, but for now they’re still required inside schools

Effective Tuesday, June 15, face coverings will no longer be required in most spaces for Californians who are fully vaccinated, according to new guidance from the state Department of Public Health.

But a handful of exceptions will remain, including indoors in K-12 schools, childcare and other youth settings. That said, the CDPH noted that its school guidance may change based on forthcoming updates from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

State health officials said Wednesday that while COVID-19 vaccines have proven to be effective in preventing infection, disease and spread, about 15 percent of the population doesn’t yet have the option to get vaccinated, including children under 12.

The CDPH’s new guidance is intended to align with last month’s CDC recommendations while providing information about higher risk settings where masks are still required or recommended. Meanwhile, the state’s color-coded tier system that’s been used to track each county’s COVID-19 progress since last August is set to be retired next week.

Along with school and childcare buildings, individuals must continue to wear masks while using public transit and or while in transportation hubs. The same goes for health care settings, correctional facilities, homeless shelters, emergency shelters and cooling centers.

Masks are also still required for unvaccinated individuals in indoor public settings and businesses such as restaurants, theaters and family entertainment centers.

The CDPH said that in workplaces, employers remain subject to the Cal/OSHA COVID-19 Emergency Temporary Standards — or in some cases the CalOSHA Aerosol Transmissible Diseases guidance — and should consult those regulations accordingly.

You can read the CDPH’s updated guidance for more information.

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Updated at 11:36 a.m. on June 7, 2021

New state data shows more than 99 percent of California school districts will fully reopen in the fall

More than 99 percent of school districts plan to fully reopen for in-person instruction when the 2021-22 school begins, and 89 percent will offer learning acceleration and targeted intervention programs over the summer.

That’s according to new data posted on California’s Safe Schools for All Hub, which has been updated with interactive maps and graphics to track the progress of school reopenings and summer programming across the state. The hub also includes information on enrichment offerings, wellness programs and mental health services by district.

All Orange County districts have signaled that on-site instruction will be fully underway in the fall.

“A restorative summer filled with reconnection, enrichment and joy, followed by a return to full in-person instruction, is what’s best for our students,” Gov. Gavin Newsom said in a news release. “We still have a long way to go in our recovery but providing our students with more support and opportunities is exactly how we bring California roaring back.”

The governor’s office announced Monday that the California Department of Public Health is launching a campaign to help build confidence with parents and students about the safety of returning to school full-time. Leveraging $25 million from Assembly Bill 86, efforts will specifically target school-age parents in communities hardest hit by the pandemic.

The state says summer learning opportunities are supported by $4.6 billion made available in early March by Gov. Newsom and the Legislature.

***

Updated at 7:06 p.m. on May 17, 2021

Despite CDC announcement, California’s mask requirements unlikely to change before June 15

The OC Health Care Agency clarified on Monday that the state hasn’t yet changed its face covering requirements despite new recommendations from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention for vaccinated people.

On May 13, the CDC announced that “fully vaccinated people no longer need to wear a mask or physically distance in any setting, except where required by federal, state, local, tribal, or territorial laws, rules, and regulations, including local business and workplace guidance.”

But Governor Gavin Newsom has said California’s mask mandate won’t be relaxed until June 15. At that time, Orange County’s health officer would have the latitude to amend his local order.

“The County of Orange continues to make incredible progress in our fight against COVID-19 and reminds our neighbors that the best strategy to move past masking and toward our new normal is to get fully vaccinated,” read a statement from the HCA.

In the meantime, the agency re-shared current guidance from the California Department of Public Health, including:

In indoor settings outside of one’s home, including public transportation, face coverings continue to be required regardless of vaccination status. For fully vaccinated persons, face coverings are not required outdoors except when attending crowded outdoor events, such as live performances, parades, fairs, festivals, sports events, or other similar settings. For unvaccinated persons, face coverings are required outdoors any time physical distancing cannot be maintained, including when attending crowded outdoor events, such as live performances, parades, fairs, festivals, sports events or other similar settings.

Face coverings are required for students and staff inside school facilities, as well as outdoors when 6 feet of distance can’t be ensured. The California Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA) has also yet to announce any changes to its workplace practices.

For more information, visit www.COVIDVaccineFacts.com.

***

Updated at 5:08 p.m. on May 7, 2021

State updates guidance for vaccinated workers, school buses, field trips and more

New guidance from the California Department of Public Health clarifies that fully-vaccinated workers in non-healthcare settings — including teachers and other school staff — who have been exposed to COVID-19 but remain asymptomatic do not need to be quarantined or otherwise be excluded from the workplace.

Based on an executive order from last year, the CDPH guidance supersedes standards previously set by Cal/OSHA.

The state this week also updated its school bus guidance, issued a set of questions and answers about field trips and put out new face covering guidance for vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals that’s in alignment with recommendations from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

And here’s some of the other recent guidance the CDPH has issued related to youth sports, graduations, music and theater performances, proms and other school-related events:

Outdoor Seated Live Events and PerformancesCommencement GuidanceIndoor Seated Live Events and PerformancesPrivate Venues and EventsGuidance for Gatherings

For the latest on COVID-19 protocols for schools, visit California’s Safe Schools For All Hub, which consolidates key resources and information.

***

Updated at 9:58 p.m. on May 3, 2021

Parental consent required for anyone under 18 to get vaccinated

News outlets reported this week that the Food and Drug Administration was poised to grant emergency use authorization of the Pfizer vaccine for children ages 12 to 15.

As we’ve noted before, parental consent is required for anyone under 18 to get vaccinated, and COVID-19 vaccinations are not mandated for any residents of the state of California, including students. Despite rumors to the contrary, no such proposal is — or has ever been — under discussion by OCDE or the Orange County Health Care Agency.

Again, coronavirus vaccines cannot be required based on the emergency use authorizations that allowed them to enter the market. Moreover, the State of California, the County of Orange and local school districts are not requiring students or staff to be vaccinated against COVID-19 as a condition of resuming in-person instruction, which is already offered at the vast majority of Orange County schools.

To accelerate a return to in-person learning five days a week, and to contribute to the region’s economic recovery, OCDE has worked with the OC Health Care Agency in support of its efforts to offer voluntary vaccinations to eligible candidates.

Currently, Pfizer makes the only COVID-19 vaccine that is authorized for teens ages 16 and 17. Parental consent is required for this age group, and in fact any person under 18 who receives their COVID-19 vaccine at a county-operated clinic or pharmacy must be accompanied by a parent or guardian.

A recent story in the Orange County Register debunks some of the misinformation that’s made the rounds locally. As always, OCDE continues to follow and share guidance from the California Department of Public Health and county health officials.

***

Updated at 1:43 p.m. on April 15, 2021

State issues new guidance for indoor performances, private events

State health officials have released updated guidance covering indoor live performances and private events.

Both documents break down what’s allowable in each tier of California’s Blueprint for a Safer Economy, although the governor has said the color-coded tiers used to track county progress could be phased out as early as mid-June if certain criteria are met.

In addition, the California Department of Public Health on Thursday released recommendations for fully vaccinated people.

Reflecting earlier guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the CDPH says fully vaccinated people can visit with other fully vaccinated individuals indoors without wearing masks or physical distancing.

They can also visit indoors with unvaccinated people who are at a low risk for severe COVID-19 disease without masks or physical distancing, and they don’t need to be quarantined or tested following a known exposure as long as they’re asymptomatic.

Fully vaccinated people should continue to take extra precautions in public, including wearing a well-fitted mask and physical distancing, according to the CDPH.

In March, the California Department of Public Health also released guidance for graduation ceremonies that included information on face coverings, spacing, and protocols for entering and exiting venues.

***

Updated at 9:29 a.m. on April 8, 2021

Vaccine eligibility is expanding, but COVID-19 vaccinations are not mandatory

California plans to open up COVID-19 vaccine eligibility to residents 16 and older on April 15, but all COVID-19 vaccinations remain strictly voluntary.

To put it another way, immunizations against COVID-19 are not mandated in California — or anywhere else in the U.S. And in fact they can’t be required based on the emergency use authorizations that allowed the current COVID-19 vaccines to enter the market.

The state of California, the County of Orange and local school districts are also not requiring students or staff to be vaccinated against COVID-19 as a condition of resuming in-person instruction, which is already offered at the vast majority of Orange County schools.

To accelerate a return to in-person learning five days a week, and to contribute to the economic recovery, OCDE is working with the Orange County Health Care Agency in support of its efforts to offer voluntary vaccinations to eligible candidates.

So far, the Pfizer vaccine is the only COVID-19 vaccine that is authorized for teens ages 16 and 17. Not only is parental consent required for this age group, any person under 18 who receives their vaccine at a county-operated clinic or pharmacy must be accompanied by their parent or guardian.

Eligible candidates who wish to get a vaccine may register through the online Othena system to schedule an appointment at a POD, or point of dispensing, operated by the HCA. Families can also schedule appointments through local pharmacy chains and some physicians.

***

Updated at 2:00 p.m. on April 6, 2021

Governor outlines next phase of COVID-19 recovery plan; state to move beyond color-coded monitoring system

Governor Gavin Newsom on Tuesday outlined the state’s next phase in California’s COVID-19 recovery, which aims to move beyond the state’s color-coded monitoring system and fully reopen the economy by June 15.

According to a press release, California plans to fully open the economy if two criteria are met: vaccine supply is sufficient for Californians 16 years and older who wish to be inoculated, and hospitalization rates remain stable.

The announcement comes as California surpasses a major milestone in the fight against COVID-19 by administering more than 20 million vaccine doses, including 4 million in the state’s hardest-hit communities, state officials said.

The next phase of the state’s plan means that businesses and schools can continue to reopen with fewer restrictions. However, testing, vaccinations verification requirements, and health and safety measures — such as mask wearing and social distancing — will remain in place.

For more information on the state’s move beyond the Blueprint for a Safer Economy, take a look at this message from the California Department of Public Health.

***

Updated at 11:10 a.m. on April 2, 2021

CDC issues new travel guidance for fully vaccinated people

Fully vaccinated people looking to hit the road — or sky — for spring break can travel safely within the United States, according to new guidance released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The CDC on Friday issued new guidance for domestic travel, saying people who are fully immunized against COVID-19 can travel and do not need to get tested or quarantine. But federal health officials have advised that travelers must continue to adhere to current health precautions like mask wearing, maintaining social distancing and avoiding large crowds.

Locally, an updated travel advisory from the California Department of Public Health states all travelers arriving in or returning to California from other states and countries should follow CDC travel guidance.

According to the CDC, nearly 100 million people in the U.S. have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. A person is considered fully vaccinated two weeks after receiving the last required dose of vaccine.

Additional information on the latest travel guidance, including guidance for international travel, can be found on the CDC website.

***

Updated at 8:54 a.m. on March 31, 2021

Orange County moves to the less restrictive orange tier

We’ve waited a long time to write this: Orange County is officially an “orange” county.

With key COVID-19 infection rates continuing to fall, OC now qualifies for the orange tier of California’s color-coded tracking system, signaling moderate transmission. The change took effect Wednesday, March 31.

The shift doesn’t have much of an impact on classrooms, but it’s certainly good news from a public health standpoint, and it means more establishments and activities get the green light to resume or expand with modifications.

For example, movie theaters and restaurant dining rooms can increase to 50 percent capacity or 200 people, whichever is fewer. At the same time, public health officials continue to call for vigilance — wear a mask in public, avoid crowds, get vaccinated when you can — to ensure our local rates keep trending in the right direction.

In California’s four-tiered system, orange is the third most severe level after the purple (widespread transmission) and red (substantial) tiers. The next step would be yellow, which indicates minimal spread of the virus, and there’s talk of adding a green tier down the road.

After spending months in the most restrictive purple tier — and enduring a weeks-long stay-at-home order through much of December and January — Orange County made it to the red tier on March 14. But, as it turns out, we wouldn’t take up residency there long-term.

As of Tuesday, Orange County’s adjusted daily case rate per 100,000 residents had dropped to 2.8 and its test positivity rate was 1.7 percent, which is actually in the yellow range. The county’s health equity positivity rate, which looks at underserved communities based on the lowest quartile of the Healthy Places Index (HPI), was 2.6 percent.

These three gauges serve as the key indicators that decide when we move between tiers, and for the time being OC looks comfortably orange.

Counties must typically remain in a tier for a minimum of three weeks before they can move to a less restrictive tier, but — and here’s where it gets more complicated — a recent adjustment to California’s case-rate threshold altered some timelines.

Essentially, the state promised that once 2 million vaccine doses were administered to 400 targeted ZIP codes based on the Healthy Places Index, it would allow slightly higher daily case rates for each tier, which gave some counties credit for meeting their goals sooner. The cutoffs are to be adjusted again when 4 million doses are administered in these ZIP codes.

For more information about prevention, testing or vaccinations in Orange County, visit occovid19.ochealthinfo.com.

***

Updated at 10:24 a.m. on March 27, 2021

State health officials release guidance for graduations, commencement ceremonies

The California Department of Public Health has released new guidance for upcoming commencement and graduation ceremonies.

Face coverings, spacing and protocols for entering and exiting venues are all covered in the guidance, which is designed to help students, families and educators celebrate academic milestones while preventing the spread of COVID-19. There are also alternative recommendations for accommodating large audiences, including drive-in ceremonies and streaming video.

School administrators and commencement organizers are encouraged to be aware of their county’s status on California’s color-coded monitoring system, as well as any local restrictions. But across all tiers, audience seating must be fixed or marked, with identifiable signs to indicate sections, rows and seats. Attendee groups must be limited to a household unit, but individuals from the same household do not need to be 6 feet apart.

The CDPH says all attendees — including school staff, performers, students and families — should be counted toward the capacity limit, which will be based on each county’s tier and the state’s previously released Outdoor Seated Live Events and Performances guidelines. If multiple ceremonies are planned for a single day, schools must allow for at least two hours between ceremonies to avoid mixing attendees.

You can find the full guidance on the California Department of Public Health website.

***

Updated at 11:34 a.m. on March 25, 2021

California to dramatically expand vaccine eligibility in April

All Californians who are at least 50 years old will be eligible to receive a COVID-19 vaccination starting April 1, and two weeks later every adult in the state will be encouraged to schedule an appointment, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced Thursday.

“With vaccine supply increasing and by expanding eligibility to more Californians, the light at the end of the tunnel continues to get brighter,” the governor said. “We remain focused on equity as we extend vaccine eligibility to those older than 50 starting April 1, and those older than 16 starting April 15.”

Based on current estimates, the state expects to receive 2.5 million weekly vaccine allocations in the first half of April and more than 3 million weekly doses in the second half of the month. California currently receives about 1.8 million weekly doses but has the capacity to administer more than 3 million vaccines per week.

Officials say they’re building the capacity to deliver 4 million vaccines each week by the end of April.

“We are even closer to putting this pandemic behind us with today’s announcement and with vaccine supplies expected to increase dramatically in the months ahead,” said California Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly. “However, we are not there yet. It will take time to vaccinate all eligible Californians. During this time, we must not let our guard down. It is important that we remain vigilant, continue to wear masks and follow public health guidance.”

The state will continue to promote equity by doubling the amount of vaccines allocated to the lowest quartile of the Healthy Places Index, or HPI. Residents in these underserved communities have suffered the high rates of infection and death during the pandemic.

***

Updated at 1:13 p.m. on March 23, 2021

State health officials provide new guidance for band, drumline, choir and drama

The California Department of Public Health has updated its Youth Sports Q&A to clarify that band, drumline, choir and drama fall under the same rules for low-contact activities that are laid out in the state’s guidance for youth sports.

The CDPH chart in the second link above breaks it down, but outdoor low-contact activities are permitted with face coverings and distancing in all tiers of the state’s color-coded monitoring system.

Indoor low-contact activities can start once a county enters the moderate — or orange — tier. Orange County is currently in the second most restrictive red tier, which is one away from orange.

Last week, the CDPH clarified in the same Q&A that sideline cheerleading is allowed as a moderate-contact sport. Meanwhile, additional guidance on observers for youth and adult recreational sports — including parents and fans in the stands — is being developed.

Based on the latest data posted Tuesday, all three of Orange County’s key COVID-19 metrics now meet the orange-tier threshold. OC’s adjusted daily case rate stood at 3.5 per 100,000 residents, the test positivity rate was 2.1 percent, and the equity positivity rate for underserved communities was 3.2 percent.

Per the state’s rules, however, a county must remain in a tier for a minimum of three weeks before it can advance to a less restrictive tier. Orange County shifted from the most restrictive purple tier to red on Sunday, March 14.

***

Updated at 8:28 a.m. on March 21, 2021

State’s health department echos CDC’s classroom spacing guidance

State health officials now recommend a minimum of 3 feet of space between students seated in a classroom rather than the previous rule of 6 feet, but teachers should continue to sit at least 6 feet apart from students and other staff.

The California Department of Public Health on Saturday revised its guidance for K-12 schools to reflect the recommendations announced a day earlier by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The state agency said it was looking to head off potential confusion as campuses across California resume in-person instruction and make plans for the summer and fall.

The CDPH’s updated guidance also renders all schools eligible to open if case rates are below 25 per 100,000 population in their counties. In all tiers, schools that have yet to re-opened must post their COVID-19 safety plans online five days before resuming on-site instruction.

Other developments:

The CDPH on Friday posted an updated Q&A on Youth Sports to clarify that sideline cheerleading is now allowed as a moderate-contact sport. Additional guidance on band and drumline is also expected soon.

***

Updated at 1:06 p.m. on March 19, 2021

OCDE to phase out vaccine PODs specific to school employees

After delivering more than 12,000 shots in four weeks, OCDE is planning to phase out its education-specific COVID-19 vaccination clinics in response to slowing demand.

OC School PODs — short for point of dispensing — will continue to administer second doses of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines based on each patient’s previously scheduled appointment time. But starting next week, school employees seeking new appointments will be referred to sites run by the OC Health Care Agency or local pharmacies.

“We are extremely grateful for the partnerships with the Health Care Agency and local school districts that helped thousands of educators get vaccinated and accelerated the return to in-person learning,” said Dr. Christine Olmstead, OCDE’s associate superintendent of Educational Services. “With the demand now winding down among school employees, we will transition this critical work back to the HCA and local medical providers.”

The first OC School POD opened at La Quinta High School in the Garden Grove Unified School District in February, initially serving school employees who were at least 65 years old or otherwise met state eligibility requirements. In March, eligibility expanded to all school employees who live or work in Orange County.

Along with La Quinta, PODs have been set up in the gymnasiums of ​Capistrano Valley, Loara High and Segerstrom high schools, as well as Serrano​ Intermediate School.

School employees who are looking to make vaccine appointments are still encouraged to register through the online Othena system. Pharmacy chains including Walgreens, Rite Aid, CVS, Costco, Target and Albertsons are also taking appointments based on state eligibility requirements.

***

Updated at 10:45 a.m. on March 19, 2021

CDC makes changes to physical distancing guidance in K-12 schools

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Friday updated its physical distancing guidelines for children in schools, saying most students can now sit 3 feet apart instead of 6 feet as long as masks are worn.

The revised recommendations apply to all K-12 students, regardless of whether community transmission is low, moderate or substantial, the CDC said. However, in communities where transmission is high, the CDC suggests that middle school and high school students remain at least 6 feet apart if schools aren’t able to keep students and teachers in assigned groups.

The CDC also advised that teachers and other adults should continue to stay 6 feet from one another and from students. And, that the 6 feet rule be maintained in common areas, such as school lobbies, and when masks can’t be worn, such as when eating.

The California Department of Public Health, which provides a foundational basis for local health guidelines, has yet to weigh in on the CDC’s new recommendations.

For additional information on the new guidance, visit the CDC website.

***

Updated at 10:02 a.m. on March 17, 2021

State releases early guidance for graduations, sports FAQs and outbreak data

California health officials announced this week that the organizers of upcoming graduation ceremonies can begin making plans based on the state’s Outdoor Seated
Live Events and Performances guidelines, which take effect on April 1.

The relevant section can be found on page 5 of this Blueprint for a Safer Economy document that breaks down what activities are allowed in each tier of California’s color-coded monitoring system. (OC is in the red tier, though that could change.)

The California Department of Public Health says more detailed guidance is forthcoming.

Youth sports FAQs

The CDPH has also released an updated Youth Sports Q&A to help athletes, parents and sports organizations understand the latest state guidance that went into effect on Feb. 26.

School outbreak data

Finally, the state has updated its school reopening maps on the Safe Schools for All Hub to include outbreak data by district.

You can view the data for public schools by selecting a specific district on the Safe Schools Reopening Map, which includes reported outbreaks since Jan. 1, 2021.

***

Updated at 7:53 a.m. on March 14, 2021

Orange County has officially returned to the red tier

For the first time since November, Orange County is back in the less restrictive red tier of the state’s COVID-19 monitoring system.

The California Department of Public Health announced Friday that 2 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines have been administered in some of the state’s hardest-hit communities. With that equity measure met, and with our county falling below the three major thresholds of California’s Blueprint for a Safer Economy, OC officially moved to the red tier on Sunday, two days earlier than expected.

Red indicates substantial transmission rather than widespread. The shift means many local businesses and activities in Orange County can resume operations or expand their capacity, impacting gyms, restaurants and movie theaters. It also means middle and high schools that didn’t open previously can begin to offer on-site instruction with modifications.

Orange County’s latest adjusted daily case rate per 100,000 residents is 6.0. That’s easily under the 7.0 cutoff between the red and purple tiers.

The local test positivity rate was 3.2 percent as of Tuesday, and the health equity rate that looks exclusively at underserved communities was 4.1 percent. Both of these metrics meet the criteria for the even-less-restrictive orange tier, signifying moderate transmission.

The County of Orange posted this news release with more information.

***

Updated at 9:29 a.m. on March 13, 2021

One year after OC campuses shuttered, a sense of tempered optimism emerges

It was a Friday the 13th that more than lived up to its foreboding reputation.

One year ago today, all Orange County schools announced the sudden suspension of in-person instruction in response to growing fears over a then-novel coronavirus and its rapid transmission.

Two days earlier, the National Basketball Association had similarly announced it was postponing all games until further notice, and by the end of the week, the world as we once knew it had hit the pause button.

The first case of COVID-19 was reported in Orange County in late January 2020. Yet few could have imagined the full flown pandemic that would follow, let alone its impact on schools.

By March 13, 2020, 67 local cases were either confirmed or presumed positive in the county, and public health experts were advising a number of precautionary measures to help slow the spread.

Amid heightened public concern, and with County Superintendent Al Mijares endorsing the suspension of in-person instruction, school districts in Orange County and throughout the state notified their communities they would temporarily close campuses to students for at least two weeks.

Dr. Mijares recommended extending student dismissals one week later, on March 20, based on Gov. Gavin Newsom’s new stay-at-home order. On April 1, the county superintendent advised local school districts to cancel in-person classes and activities through the end of the school year and move toward adopting robust distance learning models.

In the months that followed, local school districts took different approaches to reintroducing in-person instruction, reflecting localized case rates and the needs of their communities. Most now offer on-site instruction either full-time or through hybrid models.

Meanwhile, countless tales of resilience have emerged — along with a sense of tempered optimism.

Thousands of school employees have received at least one shot of a COVID-19 vaccine from educational clinics operated by OCDE, and Orange County is seeing its rates fall dramatically week by week. On Sunday, OC is set to drop to a less restrictive tier on California’s monitoring system.

But it’s still too soon to declare victory over a pandemic that has devastated families, businesses and communities.

According to the OC Health Care Agency’s latest figures, there have been more than 248,000 cumulative cases of COVID-19 in the county, and more than 4,400 local deaths have been attributed to the disease.

It’s nearly impossible to begin to process those numbers and the stories behind them. It’s equally hard to comprehend a year like no other — or imagine what the world will look like 12 months from today.

***

Updated at 6:42 p.m. on March 11, 2021

Production delay means no new Johnson & Johnson appointments at school PODs next week

The Orange County Health Care Agency says a production delay has tightened up supplies of the single-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine that’s currently administered by OC School PODs. As a result, OCDE will not receive any new allocations of Johnson & Johnson the week of March 15.

All current appointments for school employees will be honored, including second doses of Moderna. Meanwhile, OCDE is expecting to receive more shipments of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine ​soon, and future appointments will be scheduled accordingly.​

Because the HCA is required to set aside 10 percent of its vaccine supplies for education-specific PODs, OCDE will still receive a small allocation of the Pfizer vaccine. That will be dispensed at a new clinic in Santa Ana in accordance with safety protocols that ensure platforms are never mixed. Based on the limited Pfizer allocation and the governor’s directive to channel supplies to the most vulnerable communities, doses will be restricted to districts in the highest impacted ZIP codes, including Santa Ana, Garden Grove and those serving the Anaheim area.

As we’ve mentioned before, school employees seeking a vaccine are encouraged to pursue any alternative options available. Pharmacy chains including Walgreens, Rite Aid, CVS, Costco, Target and Albertsons are taking appointments — or planning to — based on state eligibility requirements, and many educators have reported successfully receiving their shots through these options.

School employees who are over 65 are still eligible to be vaccinated at one of the HCA’s Super PODs.

***

Updated at 4:38 p.m. on March 9, 2021

OC could reach the less restrictive ‘red’ tier next week

Orange County’s COVID-19 metrics have all dropped below the threshold of the most severe “purple” tier of the state’s tracking system.

Now they have to stay there for one more week to place our county in the less restrictive “red” tier, signifying substantial transmission rather than widespread. That could be the case next Tuesday, March 16.

According to the latest numbers released Tuesday, OC’s adjusted daily case rate per 100,000 residents was 6.0, which officially meets the red-tier criteria. (The cutoff is 7.0.)

The local test positivity rate was 3.2 percent and the health equity positivity rate — this tracks underserved communities — was 4.1 percent. The latter two metrics are actually in the moderate “orange” tier, which is one below red.

In the red tier, middle and high school campuses that didn’t open previously can offer in-person instruction. Some non-essential businesses, like restaurants, gyms and movie theaters, can also resume indoor operations with precautions.

Elementary schools were previously permitted to reopen in counties with a case rate of less than 25 cases per 100,000 residents. All schools must continue to follow the latest guidance from the California Department of Public Health.

***

Updated at 9:07 a.m. on March 9, 2021

CDC releases first recommendations for those who are fully vaccinated

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has released the first set of public health recommendations for people who are fully vaccinated.

To be considered fully vaccinated for COVID-19, individuals must have received their second dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine — or a single dose of the newer Johnson & Johnson vaccine — at least two weeks ago.

According to the CDC, fully vaccinated people can visit with other fully vaccinated people indoors without wearing masks or physical distancing.

They can also visit indoors with unvaccinated people from a single household who are at low risk for severe COVID-19 disease without wearing masks or physical distancing. And they don’t need to quarantine and get tested following a known exposure as long as they’re asymptomatic, the guidance says.

For now, fully vaccinated people should continue to wear masks, maintain physical distance and practice other prevention measures when visiting with unvaccinated people from multiple households or those who are most vulnerable to COVID-19.

The CDC also advises to avoid medium- and large-sized in-person gatherings and to get tested if experiencing COVID-19 symptoms.

Working in collaboration with local school districts and the OC Health Care Agency, OCDE has dispensed vaccines to more than 7,000 school employees in the county. The department currently has two clinics that are now administering Johnson & Johnson’s single-shot vaccine. More on that below.

***

Updated at 8:14 a.m. on March 7, 2021

School employees who want to get vaccinated have options for getting shots

OCDE is adding new vaccination appointments for school employees each week, but the department’s OC School PODs aren’t the only way for teachers and support staff to their shots.

Pharmacy chains including Walgreens, Rite Aid and CVS are also taking appointments based on state eligibility requirements, and many school employees have reported receiving their first shots.

Be sure to check their websites for details. And we’ve learned that if you’re prompted for a code on these sites, leave it blank.

Meanwhile, the state has its own vaccine scheduling system called My Turn. You can find out if you’re eligible by visiting myturn.ca.gov.

The HCA has posted additional information about all of the vaccine distribution options in Orange County available to those who meet county and state eligibility criteria.

And, of course, for more information about OCDE’s registration process through the Othena system, visit link.ocde.us/vaccinations.

***

Updated at 10:03 a.m. on March 6, 2021

New vaccine from Johnson & Johnson means changes for OC School PODs

Education-specific vaccination clinics at Capistrano Valley High School in Mission Viejo and La Quinta High in Westminster will suspend operations by the end of this weekend after delivering more than 6,300 shots of the Moderna vaccine.

All current appointments will be honored, and those who received their first doses will return to Capistrano Valley High or La Quinta High for their second doses based on their appointment times.

But no additional first doses of Moderna will be offered at these locations. Instead, first-time patients who register through the Othena system will find appointments at other OC Shool PODs for their single shots of the new Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

Why the change is necessary

The county’s Incident Management Team, which is led by the OC Health Care Agency, has informed OCDE that it will switch brands for OC School PODs from Moderna to the recently authorized single-shot vaccine manufactured by Johnson & Johnson.

At the same time, the Incident Management Team has directed OCDE not to administer different vaccine brands at the same school PODs to avoid any possibility of delivering two doses made by different manufacturers. That means the Johnson & Johnson vaccine must be dispensed at new locations.

The next OC School PODs

Starting Monday, March 8, a new OC School POD will be launched in the Anaheim Union High School District to administer the Johnson & Johnson vaccine for school employees with appointments. Another location will open Wednesday, March 10 in the Saddleback Valley Unified School District.

School employees who register through Othena will find the locations that are available using the same code released last Friday. Othena users are encouraged to check frequently for available appointments.

To learn more about the registration process for educators, visit link.ocde.us/vaccinations.

***

Updated at 10:31 a.m. on March 5, 2021

State will set aside 40 percent of vaccine doses for hardest-hit ZIP Codes

California is setting aside 40 percent of vaccine doses for its most vulnerable communities and has announced a vaccine equity benchmark aimed at upping the number of doses delivered in those areas, Gov. Gavin Newsrom announced this week.

The moves come as a prelude to recalibrating the Blueprint for a Safer Economy, which uses color-coded tiers to indicate county transmission rates and restriction levels. As more vaccines are deployed to the hardest-hit communities, the threshold of cases per 100,000 residents will be adjusted, allowing counties to move to less restrictive tiers at a quicker rate. (As we mentioned below, OC is close to leaving the most severe “purple” tier.)

“Vaccinating our most impacted communities, across our state, is the right thing to do and the fastest way to end this pandemic,” Newsom said.

So far, three vaccines have been authorized and nearly 10 million doses administered statewide. Nearly a third of the state and county doses are already being allocated for education and childcare workers, along with the food and agriculture sectors.

The state says vaccinations have made a difference, and overall disease trends have improved dramatically over the past six weeks. Case rates, test positivity, transmission rates, hospitalizations and ICU admissions are all on a steady decline since the winter surge.

But the pandemic has not impacted all communities equally. Forty percent of COVID cases and deaths have occurred in the lowest quartile of the Healthy Places Index, or HPI. And the rate of infections in households making less than $40,000 per year is more than double that of households with an income of $120,000 or more.

Once 2 million doses are administered to 400 targeted ZIP codes based on the HPI, the cutoff for the state’s most restrictive “purple” tier will move from seven or fewer new daily cases per 100,000 residents to 10 or fewer. The blueprint will be updated again when 4 million doses have been administered in the vaccine equity quartile.

The state says it has currently delivered 1.6 million doses to this quarter of the state, and it expects to reach 2 million within the next two weeks.

***

Updated at 7:19 p.m. on March 3, 2021

Second POD for school employees begins administering vaccinations in Capo Unified

OCDE on Wednesday opened its second vaccination clinic for local educators, launching a new POD — or point of dispensing — in partnership with Capistrano Unified and the OC Health Care Agency.

A team of school nurses delivered shots throughout the afternoon and evening in the gymnasium at Capistrano Valley High School, processing about 370 school employees, from transitional kindergarten through grade 12, with appointments. Nearly 1,000 more appointments are scheduled through Saturday.

The first OC School POD opened on Feb. 18 at La Quinta High School in partnership with the Garden Grove Unified School District. Over the course of eight days, that site has administered 2,642 vaccinations, starting with educators age 65 and older. A third POD will likely be added next week, with Anaheim as the most likely destination.

Though supplies remain limited, all school employees are now eligible to receive their vaccinations under state and county guidelines.

Educators and support staff serving grades TK-12 at public, private and charter schools can register for their immunizations at link.ocde.us/vaccinations. They can also choose to make arrangements through other providers, including area pharmacies.

***

Updated at 10:42 a.m. on March 3, 2021

OC isn’t out of the purple tier yet, but the numbers are heading in the right direction

Orange County came close to leaving the most restrictive “purple” tier of California’s monitoring system this week. We didn’t quite get there, but the less restrictive red tier could be coming soon.

The snag was the adjusted daily case rate per 100,000 residents, which was 7.6 as of Tuesday. Anything above 7 qualifies as purple.

Still, that number has been dropping significantly in recent weeks, and there’s good reason to believe it will fall below 7. Meanwhile, the other two metrics that decide where a county is classified — the test positivity rate and the health equity rate — are actually in the orange tier, which is two tiers below purple.

Orange County’s test positivity rate was 3.9 percent on Tuesday and the Health Equity Quartile Positivity Rate, which focuses on the hardest hit communities, was 5 percent.

Once a county is in the red tier, middle and high school campuses that didn’t open previously can offer in-person instruction. Some non-essential businesses, like restaurants, gyms and movie theaters, can also resume indoor operations with modifications.

Elementary schools serving grades K through 6 can open under the direction of their school boards and superintendents if their county has a case rate of less than 25 cases per 100,000 residents. All schools must continue to follow the latest guidance from the California Department of Public Health.

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Updated at 9:25 a.m. on March 2, 2021

Education-specific vaccination PODs open to all school employees with an appointment

With the next phase of the state’s vaccine rollout underway, the county’s first education-specific vaccination clinic opened to all TK-12 school employees on Monday.

Appointments are required for the Orange County Department of Education’s OC School POD, which is short for “point of dispensing,” and vaccine supplies are still limited. But within 30 minutes of registration opening on Friday, 2,400 appointments were scheduled.

On Monday, about 400 vaccinations were administered at the POD, which will continue to operate daily, excluding Sundays.

OCDE collaborated with the OC Health Care Agency and the Garden Grove Unified School District to open the first education POD at a school campus in Westminster on Feb 18. Before Phase 1B of California’s phased approach, the clinic served about 1,500 educators and staff who were at least 65 years old or otherwise met Phase 1A criteria.

Now the site is open by appointment to any school employee who serves transitional kindergarten through grade 12, and a new POD is set to launch later this week in the Capistrano Unified School District.

While vaccine doses remain limited, allocations have been increasing, and a third vaccine recently earned federal approval. Meanwhile, OCDE is working with local districts to set up additional education PODs capable of delivering 1,000 doses a day.

***

Updated at 2:35 p.m. on March 1, 2021

State legislators reach new deal to bring California’s youngest students back to classrooms

Governor Gavin Newsom and state lawmakers on Monday announced a new agreement that will provide school districts with financial incentives to open schools for students in transitional kindergarten through second grade.

Focused on getting the state’s youngest students back in the classroom for in-person instruction, the new agreement sets aside $6.6 billion in state budget funds for districts that return to in-person instruction by March 31. Beginning April 1, for every instructional day school districts do not meet the requirements, the amount of money they are eligible to receive will go down by 1 percent.

“There is no question that students learn best when they are together with their peers and educators in a physically and emotionally safe school environment,” said State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond. “Our schools need every resource possible to implement the layered safety measures that will facilitate a safe return to in-person learning for students, school staff, teachers, and their families.”

To be eligible for this new funding, districts in the most restrictive purple tier must return to in-person instruction at least through second grade, state legislators said during a press conference. Districts in the next red tier must return to in-person instruction for all elementary school grades, plus at least one grade in middle and high school.

While additional information on the new plan is forthcoming, state officials said the new proposal would not require all students and staff to be vaccinated before returning to the classroom. And only schools opening in the purple tier will be required to regularly test students and staff.

***

Updated at 7:15 p.m. on Feb. 27, 2021

School employees in Phase 1B begin registering for vaccinations

The Orange County Department of Education on Friday officially opened the registration window for school employees who live or work in OC and want to get vaccinated at an education-specific clinic.

Demand was so high that OCDE’s website briefly crashed when registration began at 3 p.m., but the site was back up shortly afterward. Over the next 30 minutes, 2,400 appointments were scheduled through the online Othena system. New appointment times are expected to be added next week.

OCDE collaborated with the OC Health Care Agency to open the county’s first OC School POD — the acronym stands for “point of dispensing” — at a Garden Grove Unified campus on Feb 18. That location initially served about 1,500 educators and staff who were at least 65 years old or otherwise met Phase 1A criteria.

But Phase 1B is now underway, and that means OCDE will be administering vaccinations to all Orange County school employees who have an appointment starting Monday. While vaccine supplies are currently limited, the department is working with local districts to set up additional education PODs capable of delivering 1,000 doses a day.

Meanwhile, the County of Orange announced Friday that its Disneyland Super POD for the general public will close this Sunday due to anticipated high winds. Individuals with appointments will still receive their vaccinations on the same day and time at the Anaheim Convention Center.

***

Updated at 1:50 p.m. on Feb. 23, 2021

Orange County outdoor, high-contact school sports cleared to resume; COVID-19 rates fall below required threshold

The California Department of Public Health Tuesday released updated COVID-19 data, which revealed the adjusted case rate per 100,000 is 11.7 for Orange County. This means that per the state’s revised high school sports guidelines, outdoor, high-contact sports like football are now cleared to resume.

As previously mentioned, the CDPH last Friday released new guidelines, now allowing high-contact sports to be played in counties that are in the purple and red tiers of the state’s COVID-19 monitoring system, if counties have a case rate at or below 14 per 100,000 people, and if the schools conduct weekly testing for COVID-19.

Now that Orange County has cleared the threshold, full practices and games could resume as soon as this Friday, Feb. 26, when the new guidelines take effect.

CIF rules regarding football require 14 days of practice before games can be played — three days of conditioning and 11 days with full pads, according to the Orange County Register. This means that if local high school football teams begin conditioning next Tuesday afternoon, they can play their first games on March 11-13.

***

Updated at 12:53 p.m. on Feb. 23, 2021

OC school employees in Phase 1B can get vaccinated starting starting March 1

Orange County health officials announced recently that 30 percent of new COVID-19 vaccine shipments will be allocated for education and childcare workers along with the food and agriculture sectors.

While vaccines are still in limited supply, that shift means school employees who were originally included in Phase 1B of the county’s rollout can begin receiving their vaccinations starting next week.

OCDE collaborated with the OC Health Care Agency to open the county’s first education-specific POD — short for point of dispensing — at a Garden Grove Unified campus on Feb 18. The POD will continue to focus this week on vaccinating the remaining more than 1,000 school employees who are at least 65 years old — or who otherwise meet Phase 1A criteria — and have an appointment for their first or second dose.

Starting March 1, however, vaccinations will be available to all school-based employees in Orange County, and OCDE is working with local districts to set up additional vaccination PODs.

The OCDE Newsroom has the full story.

***

Updated at 2:45 p.m. on Feb. 19, 2021

New state guidance for youth sports allows outdoor athletics to resume

The California Department of Public Health on Friday released new updates to its guidance for youth and high school sports, allowing play to resume across many parts of California if certain health and safety protocols are met.

The updated guidance will now allow outdoor, high-contact sports in counties in the more restrictive purple and red tiers of the state’s COVID-19 monitoring system to commence if they meet the case rate requirements.

According to the CDPH, sports such as football, baseball, softball, soccer, water polo and lacrosse are allowed to begin next Friday, Feb. 26 in any county with a case rate of fewer than 14 new daily cases per 100,000 residents. Weekly testing for coaches and athletes ages 13 and older will also be required for outdoor contact sports. Test results must be available within 24 hours of competitions.

As of Feb. 18, Orange County reported a seven-day average adjusted daily case rate of 16.8 per 100,000, with a testing positivity rate of 6.8 percent and an equity positivity rate of 9 percent. At this time, the county doesn’t meet the threshold requirements for resuming play for outdoor contact sports. However, public health officials say that numbers are trending in the right direction.

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Updated at 1:25 p.m. on Feb. 18, 2021

Severe weather delays vaccine shipments; Disneyland Super POD to close temporarily

Orange County public health officials Thursday announced that the Disneyland Resort Super POD site will close temporarily due to shipping delays caused by severe cold weather that has affected many parts of the country.

In a press release, the county said the expected Moderna vaccine delivery did not arrive on Tuesday, Feb. 16, resulting in very low inventory. State guidance encourages dispensing all vaccine supplies as quickly as possible and does not allow for maintaining a vaccine reserve.

The Disney Super POD site, which primarily dispenses the Moderna vaccine, will close today through Monday, Feb. 22, pending the receipt of additional supply, officials said. The opening of the Anaheim Convention Center site, scheduled for Wednesday, Feb. 24, may also be temporarily delayed (see additional information in post below).

Dependent on vaccine supply, the Soka University POD in Aliso Viejo will remain open to provide second doses of the Pfizer vaccine. However, the new site at Santa Ana College, which opened earlier this week, will close temporarily starting Saturday, Feb. 20; a reopening date is contingent upon receipt of additional Pfizer vaccine supply.

The OC Health Care Agency noted that residents who have an appointment at affected sites will receive a notification through Othena with information regarding rescheduling. For questions about Othena or the registration and appointment scheduling process, please call 714-834-2000.

For the latest information on Orange County’s vaccine efforts, visit covidvaccinefacts.com.

***

Updated at 10:50 p.m. on Feb. 18, 2021

OC’s third Super POD to open at Anaheim Convention Center

The Anaheim Convention Center will become Orange County’s third mass vaccine site, increasing vaccine dispensing capacity as more people are due to receive a second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.

Starting Feb. 24, the new “Super POD” site will be giving out second doses of the Moderna vaccine to those who received their first dose at the nearby Disneyland site, according to a county press release.

After Feb. 24, Disneyland will only dispense first and second doses of the Pfizer vaccine. And, the Anaheim Convention Center site will only dispense Moderna, first and second doses.

The second dose appointment will remain at the same date and time — only the location will change. Othena, the online system for Orange County residents and workers to register for their COVID-19 vaccinations, will send a notification to everyone whose appointment location is affected by this change, the press release said.

County officials this week also opened a full-time COVID-19 vaccination site on the campus of Santa Ana College. The smaller site is said to target Orange County’s neighborhoods hit hardest by the virus.

Currently the county is focused on inoculating those 65 and older, including many school employees who are at least 65 years old and have been unable to get vaccinated. Within Orange County’s public schools, there are approximately 5,000 employees who meet this criteria, and the goal is to make sure they get appointments before the start of Phase 1B.

The county’s goal is to vaccinate 50 percent of individuals 65 and older before transitioning to Phase 1B, which would include most school employees.

***

Updated at 2:15 p.m. on Feb. 12, 2021

CDC releases new guidance for safely reopening schools

Citing evidence that in-person schooling can resume safely with proper precautions in place, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Friday released updated guidance for reopening the nation’s schools, including new indicators and thresholds for returning students to classrooms.

The highly anticipated guidance advises schools adopt “five mitigations strategies” in resuming in-person learning — universal masking; social distancing; hand-washing and respiratory etiquette; cleaning and ventilating facilities; and contact tracing, isolation and quarantine protocols.

According to the CDC, if schools put these mitigation measures in place, access to vaccinations should not be a precondition for reopening schools. However, new guidance stresses that teachers should be prioritized for vaccines, and that once educators are vaccinated, schools should continue to implement these mitigation practices.

To help monitor the severity of outbreaks in local communities, the new guidance also includes a color-coded chart — blue, yellow, orange and red — on assessing community spread. Districts with low community spread of COVID-19 (blue) or moderate transmission (yellow) are encouraged to consider reopening for full, in-person learning. Schools in areas with substantial or high transmission (orange and red) may still consider a limited reopening, as long as they can layer multiple safety mitigations strategies in the classroom, the CDC says.

“When communities implement and strictly adhere to mitigation strategies, the level of community transmission is slowed,” the new guidance states. “This will in turn enable schools that are open for in-person learning to stay open and help schools that have not yet reopened to return to in-person instruction.”

The CDC made it clear that the new guidance is not mandating that schools reopen, but rather it presents a pathway to reopen schools and help them remain open.

Additional information on the new guidance can be found on the CDC’s website.

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Updated at 11:29 a.m. on Feb. 12, 2021

State unveils interactive map with information on district reopening status, safety plans

California has launched an interactive Safe Schools Reopening Map, providing a snapshot of the reopening status of local school districts and links to their safety plans.

Aligned with the state’s Safe Schools for All Plan, the online map is designed to support local decision-making and ensure transparency, officials said. Separate maps are available for charter and private schools.

Safe Schools Reopening map screenshot

“As COVID-19 conditions continue to improve and vaccinations ramp up throughout the state, this map will provide local communities with accessible, up-to-date information on how districts in their communities and beyond are adapting to the pandemic, including safety planning and implementation,” Governor Gavin Newsom said in a statement.

“This map is one of many resources we have made available that will help school staff and families make informed decisions as we safely reopen our schools,” he said.

The interactive map, which is still in “beta” form, was developed in partnership with county offices of education and the California Collaborative for Educational Excellence. Along with the reopening status and links to district plans, the map offers an overview of COVID-19 funds received.

The California Department of Public Health plans to add additional data, including outbreaks reported in each school district. State officials said schools will be asked to input new data every two weeks.

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Updated at 10:36 a.m. on Feb. 10, 2021

County COVID-19 rates decline after peaking in January

Orange County’s COVID-19 rates have been trending in the right direction, and that’s good news. But there’s still a ways to go before we drop down to a less restrictive tier on California’s monitoring system.

According to figures released this week, the adjusted daily case rate per 100,000 residents stands at 29.7, which is a significant drop from mid-January, when 78.8 new daily cases were recorded per 100,000. OC’s testing positivity rate is now 9.4 percent, and the health equity rate — that metric narrows it down to the hardest hit communities — is 12.4 percent. All fall within the range of the most restrictive purple tier.

For our county to meet the criteria for the red tier, three things need to happen: The rate of new daily cases must be between 4 and 7, the testing positivity rate must fall between 5 percent and 8 percent, and the health equity metric needs to be below 8 percent.

According to guidance from the California Department of Public Health, schools in the purple tier that haven’t already reopened aren’t allowed to resume in-person instruction for grades 7-12 until their county is in the red tier. But campuses serving grades K-6 can restart on-site programs when their counties are reporting fewer than 25 daily cases per 100,000 residents.

State and local health officials continue to call for face coverings in public, physical distancing of at least 6 feet, frequent hand-washing and the avoidance of large gatherings.

***

Updated at 6:36 p.m. on Feb. 3, 2021

System used by OC to sign up for vaccinations is now available in Spanish

The online system for Orange County residents and workers to register for their COVID-19 vaccinations — and schedule appointments when they’re eligible — is now available in Spanish.

Those who visit the Othena.com website can click on “English” at the top of the page and select “Español” to receive instructions in Spanish. Officials say a Vietnamese language version is coming soon, and additional updates to the Othena app are in the works.

While shortages have been reported across the country, more than 570,000 Orange County residents and workers have been registered through Othena since Jan. 1, and more than 131,000 individuals have been vaccinated, county officials said. Nearly 144,000 appointments have been scheduled.

Based on state guidelines, the Orange County Health Care Agency is making vaccines available for those who fall within California’s Phase 1A, including health care workers, as well as individuals age 65 and older.

Phase 1B, which will include teachers and other school employees, is expected to follow when sufficient doses are available. The Orange County Department of Education is working with the HCA to automatically register school employees through Othena.

County health officials have posted a list of frequently asked questions about Othena at occovid19.ochealthinfo.com/othena-faqs. Officials say the webpage will be continually updated as new information becomes available.

For the latest information on Orange County’s vaccine efforts, visit the OC Health Care Agency’s website.

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Updated at 8:56 a.m. on Feb. 1, 2021

OCDE, health officials working on plans to vaccinate educators

The education sector could begin receiving vaccines later this month, but the timing will depend on when enough supplies are available.

The OCDE Newsroom has posted a handful of takeaways about vaccines for school and district employees.

While the Orange County Health Care Agency has been moving quickly to distribute COVID-19 vaccines to eligible residents and workers, doses have been limited — and not just locally. Across the U.S., shortages are contributing to the slower-than-expected pace of getting shots in arms.

The good news is production is expected to ramp up, especially as new vaccines hit the market. In the meantime, OCDE is working with the HCA to make sure detailed plans are in place.

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Updated at 3:25 p.m. on Jan. 25, 2021

Public health officials end California’s regional stay-at-home order

Citing a drop in COVID-19 hospitalizations, state health officials have lifted the stay-at-home order for all regions in California.

The change announced Monday by Gov. Gavin Newsom means restaurants can resume outdoor dining effective immediately, and hair and nail salons can reopen with precautions. It also means some youth sports could resume, but permission will depend on where a county falls on the state’s four-tiered monitoring system.

For example, because Orange County is still in the most restrictive “purple” tier, only low-contact outdoor sports such as cross country would be allowed under guidance issued last month by the California Department of Public Health.

Newsom announced the state’s stay-at-home order back in early December, urging Californians to only venture out for essential activities. The goal was to slow transmission rates and ease the burden on the hospital system and, more specifically, intensive care units, which were filling rapidly.

As of this week, three of the state’s five regions were still under the order — San Joaquin Valley, the Bay Area and Southern California, which includes Orange County. ICU capacity projections for these regions are now above 15 percent, which is the threshold for exiting the order.

“California is slowly starting to emerge from the most dangerous surge of this pandemic yet, which is the light at the end of the tunnel we’ve been hoping for,” California Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly said.

“Seven weeks ago, our hospitals and front-line medical workers were stretched to their limits,” Ghaly said, “but Californians heard the urgent message to stay home when possible and our surge after the December holidays did not overwhelm the health care system to the degree we had feared.”

All counties must continue to follow rules tied to California’s Blueprint for a Safer Economy, which uses color-coded tiers to indicate which activities and businesses are permitted. Most counties are in the most severe “purple” tier based on local case rates and testing positivity percentages.

Public health officials continue to call for face coverings in public, physical distancing of at least 6 feet, frequent hand-washing and the avoidance of large gatherings.

***

Updated at 10:02 a.m. on Jan. 21, 2021

Soka University will be OC’s second vaccination ‘Super POD’ site

The County of Orange plans to open its second COVID-19 vaccine Super POD at Soka University in Aliso Viejo on Saturday morning.

Under Operation Independence, the county is taking a regional approach to vaccine distribution with large points of dispensing, or PODs. The first Super POD opened at the Disneyland Resort on Jan. 13. As of Wednesday, more than 21,000 vaccines had been delivered to eligible residents and workers.

County officials say they’re moving quickly to make more vaccines available, but they’re facing limited supplies. According to a news release, the Orange County Health Care Agency is continuously requesting more doses from the state.

Additional locations will open as supplies increase. The county anticipates the need for at least five Super PODs opening in phases, ensuring access to all Orange County residents.

Vaccines are currently available for those who live and work in Orange County and fall within California’s Phase 1A, including individuals age 65 and older. Appointments are available through Othena.com based on availability. After booking an appointment, you must present your ID and proof of eligibility at the Super POD site to receive a vaccine.

For the latest information on Orange County’s vaccine efforts, visit the OC Health Care Agency’s website.

***

Updated at 11:00 a.m. on Jan. 19, 2021

CIF Southern Section cancels championships for fall sports

The CIF Southern Section on Tuesday announced that playoffs and championships were canceled for fall sports, citing a desire to create more time for schools to potentially play regular-season games. This impacts students who participate in football, competitive cheer, cross country, gymnastics, girls volleyball, and boys and girls water polo.

In a statement to local athletic directors and principals, Commissioner Rob Wigod said the decision was made to cancel the portion of the fall sports seasons that CIF has direct control over – which unfortunately is the Southern Section championships.

“We are not cancelling the entire seasons for our fall sports,” Wigod said. “Hopefully, the additional weeks now available during the fall sports season will be useful to our schools in the effort to have regular season and/or league competition in the time ahead.”

Wigod also stated that spring sports could resume as scheduled if Southern California moves from the purple tier. A decision is anticipated to be made by mid-April.

“This may be the darkest period we have experienced throughout the 10 months of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Wigod said. “These are extremely difficult times for everyone.”

Below are end dates for the impacted sports:

Boys/Girls Cross Country: Saturday, March 27, 20218-Man Football: Saturday, April 3, 202111-Man Football: Saturday, April 17, 2021Girls Volleyball: Saturday, March 20, 2021Boys/Girls Water Polo: Saturday, March 20, 2021

Once the regional stay-at-home order is lifted in Southern California, athletic programs could be able to compete in sports approved in the state’s guidance, which groups activities into the state’s colored tier system for monitoring. Currently, in the Southern Section, all seven counties — including Orange County — are in the purple tier.

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Updated at 4:10 p.m. on Jan. 14, 2021

Governor launches new Safe Schools for All online ‘hub’

Governor Gavin Newsom on Thursday announced the launch of the Safe Schools for All hub – a website designed to serve as a one-stop shop for state guidance and resources on safely resuming in-person instruction for all schools in California.

According to the governor’s press office, the new site — schools.covid19.ca.gov — is meant to help support Newsom’s Safe Schools For All Plan from December and will be updated frequently.

“Learning is non-negotiable, and getting our kids and staff back into the classroom safely will help us continue turning the corner on this pandemic,” said Governor Newsom.

“With proposed new funding and ongoing conversations with districts, school employees, stakeholders and the Legislature, we remain committed to our Safe Schools for All Plan and helping all students — with a focus on those in disproportionately impacted communities — get the help they need to return to in-person instruction.”

Below is a brief breakdown of resources and tools that can be found on the new website.

Online portal for school administrators to request technical assistance from the state Safe Schools for All teamSingle consolidated state framework and guidance for reopening schoolsPortal for school staff and parents to report concerns for potential state intervention and enforcementNew funding opportunitiesData collection and resources to implement school-centered COVID-19 testing

Additional information on the Safe Schools for All plan can be found on the CDPH website.

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Updated at 1:16 p.m. on Jan. 14, 2021

California health officials release new guidance for K-12 schools

The California Department of Public Health has announced updated guidance for K-12 schools, outlining requirements for campuses that have already reopened along with criteria for those planning to resume in-person instruction.

The 50-page document issued Thursday consolidates existing state guidance and directives related to schools, and it supersedes the last set of guidelines released in August, officials said.

Noteworthy changes include new criteria for reopening school campuses under California’s Blueprint for a Safer Economy framework. There are also revised steps to take when a student or staff member is found to have COVID-19 symptoms and when a cluster or outbreak is under investigation.

As with previous versions, there is updated guidance on face coverings — students in all grade levels are required to wear them at all times unless exempt — and physical distancing in classrooms.

The OCDE Newsroom has the full story.

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Updated at 4:40 p.m. on Jan. 12, 2021

County health officer opens vaccine distribution to residents 65 and older

County Health Officer Dr. Clayton Chau announced Tuesday that all Orange County residents age 65 and older are now eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.

Priority had been given to health care workers and seniors 75 years of age and older under the OC Health Care Agency’s phased approach. But the decision was made to drop the age requirement by 10 years after health officials examined data showing alarming fatality rates among older adults who contracted the coronavirus.

“I reached this decision after carefully reviewing case, hospitalization/intensive care unit and mortality data related to older adults and noting the especially concerning outcomes for this specific population here in OC,” said Dr. Chau, who also serves as director of the HCA. “My aim is to reduce hospitalizations and deaths as rapidly as possible, and we must prioritize our vaccine allocation to protect the most vulnerable in our community.”

With the county shifting from Phase 1A to Phase 1B, OC residents are encouraged to register through a testing management app called Othena to find out when they’re eligible for the vaccine. The HCA also noted Tuesday that vaccine distribution at the new Disneyland Resort Super POD is by appointment only.

To learn more about the county’s phased distribution plan, visit www.COVIDVaccineFacts.com.

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Updated at 1:30 p.m. on Jan. 12, 2021

Disneyland to serve as new vaccine ‘super site’

Orange County officials this week announced that the Disneyland Resort will soon serve as one of the county’s five planned mass COVID-19 vaccination sites.

The resort will serve as Orange County’s first “super POD” — or point-of-dispensing — sites where thousands of residents daily will be able to get vaccinated. The county will announce the additional sites as agreements are finalized, according to the Jan. 11 press release.

While the county did not share details of where on the Disneyland property the vaccination site would operate, officials said it would open later this week — by appointment only — to service people who live or work in Orange County and are eligible based on the state’s priority list.

Speaking of the state’s priority list, the county is only permitting people who are in “Phase 1a” to receive vaccines. The next phase, Phase 1B, will allow education and childcare workers to also receive the vaccine. Orange County teachers could begin receiving vaccines as soon as February, according to a chart on the OC Healthcare Agency website.

Additional information on Orange County’s vaccination efforts can be found at covidvaccinefacts.com.

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Updated at 9:55 a.m. on Jan. 11, 2021

OC volunteers are needed to help with vaccine distribution

The County of Orange is seeking volunteers who will be able to assist with vaccinations at future distribution sites.

Registration flier with link

Those interested can register through OneOC, which brings nonprofit organizations and companies together to serve the community.

County officials say they’re looking to establish two teams of volunteers.

Those with medical licenses will be able to assist with vaccine preparation and distribution. Candidates for this role include physicians, nurses, nursing students, dentists, medical assistants, paramedics and EMTs.

General support volunteers are also needed to help with logistics, data entry, registration and other necessary functions.

Prospective volunteers can register today at volunteers.oneoc.org/special-event/a182I000007VTf2. Click on the flier for more information.

And for more information about vaccine timelines and Orange County’s phased approach, visit covidvaccinefacts.com.

***

Updated at 11:00 a.m. on Jan. 4, 2021

Questions about the COVID-19 vaccine? Check out this helpful resource

How do vaccines work? When will I be able to get vaccinated? How do I know the vaccine is safe and effective?

If you’re having questions about the new COVID-19 vaccine, you’re not alone.

The OC Health Care agency has created an effective resource — covidvaccinefacts.com — to answer the public’s questions and provide news and information about the COVID-19 vaccine.

Developed by the county’s top public health officials and updated with the latest facts and figures, the new website features a running digest of top news as well as frequently asked questions and links to state and local vaccine-related resources.

Additional information related to the state’s plan for vaccine distribution can be found by visiting https://covid19.ca.gov/vaccines/.

***

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