San Diego County's case rate entered purple-tier territory on California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s color-coded COVID-19 monitoring system on Tuesday, and while it could mean a rollback of business reopenings for the region, we won't know for certain for another week.
San Diego County's case rate last week was 7.9, which is outside the 4 to 7 range of the red tier and qualifies it for the most restrictive of the four. If demoted, San Diego would lose its title as one of only two Southern California counties classified in the state's less-restrictive red tier.
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The red tier permits several business sectors to reopen indoor operations in a limited capacity. For example, gyms have reopened at 10% capacity indoors, and places of worship and movie theaters were allowed to reopen at 25% capacity indoors (with a maximum of 100 people).
The guideline that states that counties must have consistent data for two weeks in order to move between tiers is keeping San Diego in the red tier for now. But reopenings could revert if the county's case rate remains above 7 for one more week, Public Health Officer Dr. Wilma Wooten said.
A huge contributing factor to the case rate increase? A surge in positive COVID-19 cases at SDSU that has accounted for more than 600 cases in the last three weeks, Dr. Wooten told county supervisors on Tuesday.
Without SDSU's cases, the county's case rate would be 6, solidly in the red tier, Wooten added.
The public health officer said she asked the state to consider that fact when determining what tier to put San Diego County. California's secretary of Health and Human Services, Dr. Mark Ghaly, addressed the issue on Tuesday, stating he was aware that a surge at SDSU was a contributing factor and said the state and county were working together to address the increase in cases in recent weeks.
County Supervisor Kristin Gaspar said the group of five county supervisors, as a whole, are having productive conversations with Gov. Newsom about keeping San Diego in the red tier.
"If we can get relief from these impossible metrics, establish local control, and remove the SDSU cases without jeopardizing business licenses and CARES Act money, it will be a win for San Diego," Gaspar said in a press release.
Gaspar said she has given supervisors one week to work things out with the governor and report back at a special meeting next week.
"If this does not happen, we will have no choice but to take more drastic action," she said.
The report is due on the same day the state releases its next round of case data, which, barring an agreement between the county and state, will determine if San Diego County will be forced to shutter most indoor businesses once again.
If the county is placed into the purple tier, all newly reopened indoor operations would be forced to shutter except for barbershops and hair salons. Indoor retail and shopping centers may also remain open but their capacity would be limited to 25%, with food courts closing down again. Essential businesses like grocery stores and banks would remain operational.
That means restaurants, places of worship, museums and gyms would need to close all their indoor services. Those sectors can continue to operate outdoors, with modifications.
Wooten said that, in order to prevent more business restrictions, San Diego needs to reduce its case rate. Residents can help by following public health strategies that have been touted since the pandemic began: Wash your hands, wear a face mask, maintain social distancing and stay at home if you feel ill.
"Given the rise in cases, it is even more important that we move forward responsibly since there is no path to economic recovery without slowing the spread of COVID-19," Wooten said.
To determine what tier each county in the state falls under, the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) uses two metrics: a 7-day average of daily news cases per 100,000 county residents and the percentage of testing positivity over a 7-day period.
San Diego's case rate is at 7.9 but our testing positivity is at 4.5%, which falls into the less restrictive orange tier. When the metrics fall in different tiers, the county is assigned to the more restrictive tier.
San Diego County has reported 42,887 positive COVID-19 cases and 734 deaths since the outbreak was first detected in the county.
For the latest daily coronavirus numbers in San Diego County, follow this story.
To check San Diego County's progress on the state's COVID-19 tier system, visit the state's website here and enter "San Diego County."