San Diego County Moves Toward Dreaded ‘Purple’ Tier Of COVID-19 System

Credit: State of California

Above: Data released Nov. 4, 2020, showing San Diego in the purple tier, the most restrictive of the state’s four-tier COVID-19 reopening plan.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

San Diego County public health officials reported 293 new COVID-19 cases and 10 new deaths Tuesday, raising the region’s case total to 57,702 and the death toll to 901.

The 10 deaths occurred between Oct. 6 and Nov. 2, according to county health officials. The victims were six men and four women, whose ages ranged from late 40s to late 80s. All but one had underlying medical conditions, according to the county.

Of the 8,200 tests reported Tuesday, 4% returned positive, bringing the 14-day rolling average of positive tests to 3%.

Of the total number of cases in the county, 3,968 — or 6.9% — have required hospitalization and 918 patients — or 1.6% of all cases — had to be admitted to an intensive care unit.

Five new community outbreaks were also confirmed Monday, two in business settings, two in restaurant/bar settings, and one in a health care setting. Over the previous seven days, 31 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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