What Happens If San Diego County's COVID-19 Case Rates Land Us in the Purple Tier?

“Some of those indoor operations would be curtailed again,” San Diego County Supervisor Nathan Fletcher told NBC 7, referring what would happen if the county makes its way into the dreaded purple tier

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When it comes to COVID-19, San Diego County remains on the state’s red tier but what happens if the local case and positivity rates land the county in the most restrictive tier?

San Diego County Supervisor Nathan Fletcher spoke with NBC 7 Tuesday night about the possibility of San Diego’s COVID-19 numbers shifting the county into the purple tier on California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s color-coded COVID-19 system.

San Diego County has been on the red tier – the category with “substantial” case rate – since Newsom rolled out the system on Aug. 31. Right now, San Diego and Orange County are the only counties in Southern California not in the purple tier.

Fletcher said that if San Diego County’s COVID-19 numbers continue to go up and stay up for two consecutive weeks, then county health officials will roll out new restrictions.

“It’s not everything that closed before; salons get to stay open and barbershops,” he explained. “There are some of those personal services that can stay open.”

As of Tuesday, Sept. 8, San Diego County had a case rate of 6.9 cases per 100,000 residents, which keeps our county in the red tier for at least another two weeks. The state releases our new case rate every Tuesday.

Going up by 0.1 cases per 100,000 residents means San Diego County would qualify to be moved into the state's purple tier, but our numbers would need to remain within that tier for another two consecutive Tuesdays before we're officially on the purple tier.

The state monitors each county in California on two metrics -- case rate and testing positivity percentage. As of Tuesday, Sept. 8, San Diego County remained in the red tier but was .1% away from landing in the more restrictive purple tier.

The same goes if our case rate was lowered enough to fall into the less-restrictive orange tier.

The businesses that might have to pull back on indoor services would include restaurants, gyms, and movie theaters. Under the red tier, San Diego County restaurants and movie theaters have been able to offer indoor operations at 25% capacity, while indoor gyms have been operating at 10% capacity.

Under the state’s purple tier, however, only outdoor service – with modifications – is allowed at restaurants, gyms and fitness centers.

There is another metric besides case rate that can move California's counties within Newsom's tiers. That metric is testing positivity rate, which for San Diego County is 4.2%.

That 4.2% stat would normally qualify San Diego County to move into the orange or "moderate" tier, however, San Diego County public health officer Dr. Wilma Wooten said at a Sept. 10 news briefing that the local case rate is holding the county back from that. Both numbers need to work in the same direction in order for that move into the lower tier to happen.

California health officials said if the two metrics are not the same tier, the county's tier assignment will be determined by the more restrictive of the two. For instance, if a county's test positivity falls into tier 3 or orange, but the case rate falls into tier 1 or purple, then the county will be assigned as a tier 1 county.

Fletcher said vigilance is the key to staying in the red tier – or getting into less restrictive tiers like the orange and yellow categories.

“The more compliance we can get, the more widespread cooperation we get, the more likely it is that we can stay in the red,” he explained. “But if we do trip back into a few weeks to purple, then some of those indoor operations will be curtailed again.”

Fletcher said the possibility of a tier setback should be a reminder to San Diego County to not let our guard down now.

“You know, our numbers are not trending in the right direction,” he said. “We’d love to see them continue to come down and, unfortunately, they’re starting to creep back up. And so, I think it’s a reminder to all of us that we really have to continue that vigilance – day in and day out – really be mindful of our individual actions.”

Fletcher said while everyone wants to move on from the problem that is the coronavirus, it’s just not possible right now.

“It’s going to be here for a while,” he added.

San Diego County's COVID-19 Numbers

As of Sept. 8, county health officials reported 41,077 COVID-19 cases in San Diego County since the pandemic reached the region in mid-February. A total of 216 new cases were reported on Sept. 9 – which included 110 new COVID-19 cases among students at San Diego State University.

Since SDSU’s fall semester started on Aug. 24, there have been nearly 400 COVID-19 cases among students. County health leaders have said this surge in cases out of the university is impacting the county's overall progress.

In all, so far, there have been 709 COVID-related deaths in San Diego County.

San Diego County’s case rate as of Tuesday was 6.9 cases per 100,000 residents, and the county’s positivity rate stood at 4.2%. The case rate would have to fall below 3.9 cases and stay below a 4.9% positivity rate for 14 straight days before San Diego County can advance into the lower tier 3, also known as the orange and moderate category.

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."

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