coronavirus

Are We There Yet? San Diego County's Pathways to Red Tier

San Diego County is on track to advance from purple tier to red tier, and there are three different routes it could take to get there. One route could even get us there as soon as next week

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Once San Diego County advances into the red tier of California's tiered reopening blueprint, restrictions on restaurants, gyms and other businesses and activities will begin to lift.

While it's far from signaling things are back to normal, the short move to red tier will be a huge step forward for the local economy and county residents hoping to work some of their favorite activities back into their routines (Padres games, anyone?).

So, how can we get to the red tier, and continue our progress through the reopening stages? There are actually three pathways.

Pathway 1

Under this pathway, the original course for tier advancement, San Diego County is at least two weeks away from the red tier.

This path focuses on San Diego's case rate, a metric used by the state to measure the spread of COVID-19 within counties. The case rate for San Diego County must fall below 7 for two consecutive weeks before we can go from purple to red.

On Tuesday, the county's case rate was measured at 8.8. Just a bit outside.

Although it misses the mark, it's still a welcomed decrease from our 10.8 case rate a week ago and 15 the week before that.

The state also considers two other metrics, testing positivity percentage and health equity testing positivity percentage, when assigning counties to tiers. Both have qualified for advanced tiers for several weeks now, making case rate the last benchmark.

These three metrics are published by the state every Tuesday, and all three must meet the requirements for an advanced tier for two consecutive weeks before it makes the move.

Pathway 2

The second path was carved out by the state last week. It focuses on a goal of getting 2 million vaccines in the arms of California residents living in the state's lowest Vaccine Equity Quartile, or the ZIP codes hit hardest by the coronavirus.

Once 2 million vaccines are given in these communities, the state will loosen case rate requirements and allow for a quicker transition from the purple tier to the red tier. That means San Diego's case rate would only have to be below 10, which it is now, for the county to advance.

The good news is that the change will be retroactive one week, so if California hits that 2 million mark by next Tuesday, March 16, say hello to the red tier. The state is expected to meet that quartile milestone is this week.

The thresholds would not change for orange or yellow tiers until 4 million residents in at-risk ZIP codes are vaccinated.

NBC 7's Amber Frias explains the state's objectives.

Pathway 3

The third and final path for tier advancement relies on the state's Health Equity Metric. According to the state, counties in which a case rate is declining, or changes no more than 5%, can advance one tier -- in San Diego County's case, from purple to red -- if their testing positivity percentage and health equity testing positivity percentage both meet the criteria for two tiers ahead -- orange tier, for San Diego -- for two consecutive weeks.

San Diego County's overall positivity rate this week was 3.3% and the health equity testing positivity percentage was at 4.5%, which both meet orange tier requirements. If they do so again next Tuesday, San Diego County can move to the red tier.

Counties can only advance one tier at a time.

San Diego County

With all that said, it's important to note what a county spokesperson told NBC 7 on Tuesday, which is that just because the county becomes eligible to move into a less-restrictive tier doesn't immediately mean that move will take place.

"Eligible isn’t confirmation. But we are hopeful and very pleased with the direction things are moving," the spokesperson said.

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