County, State Both Track San Diego's Case Rate, But Which Should We be Following?

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San Diego County’s coronavirus case rate (COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people) is a data metric that a lot of people are keeping their eyes on.

San Diego’s rate is outside of California’s threshold, which is one of two abnormal metrics keeping the county on the state’s watch list. It’s also one of the biggest hurdles standing in the way of getting kids back on campus, which could get some parents back to work and provide a much needed boost to the local economy.

Our rate is trending downward and county health leaders think we can achieve a satisfactory rate soon, but since both the state and the county are tracking the data there has been some confusion as to which number we should be looking at.

A Tuesday evening chat with County Supervisor Nathan Fletcher cleared the air.

“The state number is what guides the decision making, but we share our numbers,” County Supervisor Nathan Fletcher said.

The two numbers aren’t usually off by much – San Diego reported its case rate Tuesday at 101.2 while the state marked our county’s rate at 105.3. Fletcher said the discrepancy could originate in differences in the time each entity processes its data.

"We think the discrepancy is probably just when you cut off what time of day or the speed at which things get reported," he said. "Sometimes it's a little quicker to us (the county)."

Last week the state reported a glitch that slowed the reporting of thousands of coronavirus tests and caused a backlog that impacted multiple counties. So is the state’s metric accurate?

"Well, the state is doing all they can to catch up that backlog. We think we have been almost completely caught up with our backlog of testing. We have reported those so they should be factored in,” Fletcher said.

And while San Diego’s case rate is slowly creeping toward below the state’s limit, there is still a long way to go before any big changes will come of it.

“I think it's important for us to remember in order to get off the state monitoring list we have to get below that 100 threshold for three consecutive days, and then you have to be off for 14 consecutive days to have any meaningful impact,” Fletcher said. “And the only significant change would be to schools. All of K-12 would be allowed to open. It will not change the posture around indoor operations, so that will require a separate state action.”

But if the metric helps guide decision making concerning the lives of children, why isn’t it also weighed into the decision to reopen businesses?

“It’s just not the way the state is structured,” Fletcher explained. “It would certainly be my hope and my expectation that if we're off the monitoring list and we were significantly down and trending down that some of those indoor operations could resume, especially the ones that are very limited in terms of number of folks exposed. I think it's unlikely we're going to see bars come back. I think some of the restrictions on restaurants will certainly remain in place. But again, we'll have to wait and see what happens."

San Diego County Public Health Officer Dr. Wilma Wooten said if daily new COVID-19 cases continue to come in below 200 like they did Tuesday, our case rate could reach satisfactory levels very soon.

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