San Diego dips into state’s restrictive ‘purple’ COVID-19 tier

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SAN DIEGO (CNS) – San Diego County took its first step into the dreaded “purple” tier of the state’s four-tiered COVID-19 reopening plan Wednesday, leaving just one week to determine if the county will be forced to shutter nearly all of its nonessential indoor businesses.

“It would take a significant change in trajectory,” Supervisor Nathan Fletcher said Wednesday.

State officials reported that San Diego County had an unadjusted new daily coronavirus case rate of 8.7 per 100,000. The adjusted case rate dropped to 7.4 per 100,000, above the baseline of 7 which makes up the floor for the purple, or most restrictive tier of the reopening plan. Last week’s unadjusted case rate was 7.8 per 100,000.

In recent weeks, the region had an unadjusted rate well above the purple tier guidelines, but a significant effort to increase the volume of tests had allowed for an adjustment to bring it back to the red, or substantial, tier.

According to the reopening plan, a county has to report data exceeding a more restrictive tier’s guidelines for two consecutive weeks before being moved to that more restrictive tier. A county then has to be in that tier for a minimum of three weeks before it may move up a rung to a less restrictive tier.

“People are tired of the pandemic and letting down their guard,” Supervisor Greg Cox said. “We need to do better. We need to do a lot better and we can do better.”

San Diego County has been in the red tier for months, skirting but ultimately avoiding the purple tier, which would necessitate the closure of almost all indoor operations of nonessential businesses. Recent trends have shown a slow but steady increase in infection numbers.

“Make sure we get within our red level again or else everything moves outdoors again, which is fine,” said Steve Garcia, owner of Thr3e Punk Ales Brewing Co. in Chula Vista. “At this point in the eight-month journey of the pandemic, we’ve learned how to dance.”

If the county cannot drop its adjusted daily case rate below 7 per 100,000, indoor operations in locations such as restaurants, museums, places of worship, breweries and retail businesses will have to either close entirely, move to outdoor operations only or modify in other ways.

“If there’s one thing we know, nothing will remain constant,” Garcia said.

Dr. Wilma Wooten, the county’s public health officer, said retail operations, including indoor shopping centers, will be limited to 25% of building capacity, down from the current 50%. Schools, unless they have already restarted in-person learning, will be restricted to distance learning. K-12 schools already in session can continue, Wooten said.

The county’s testing positivity rate actually improved, declining 0.3% from last week to reach 3.2%, but remains high enough for this metric to remain in the orange tier.

The state’s health equity metric, which looks at the testing positivity for areas with the least healthy conditions, increased from 5.1% to 5.3% and entered the red tier. This metric does not move counties backward to more restrictive tiers, but is required to advance.

The state data reflect the previous week’s case data to determine where counties stand. It is usually updated on Tuesdays, but this week’s update was rescheduled because of the election.

County public health officials reported 404 new COVID-19 cases and three new deaths Wednesday, raising the region’s case total to 58,106 and the death toll to 904.

Of the 15,345 tests reported Wednesday, 3% returned positive, maintaining the 14-day rolling average of positive tests at 3%.

Of the total number of cases in the county, 3,983 — or 6.9% — have required hospitalization and 921 patients — or 1.6% of all cases — had to be admitted to an intensive care unit.

Seven new community outbreaks were also confirmed Wednesday, two in business settings, three in restaurant/bar settings, one in a grocery setting and one in a health care setting. Over the previous seven days, 25 community outbreaks were confirmed. A community outbreak is defined as three or more COVID-19 cases in a setting and in people of different households over the past 14 days.

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