County Supervisor Nathan Fletcher says halting the COVID spread is more like turning an aircraft carrier than a Jet Ski. He noted a sense of public complacency on compliance with health rules, but “COVID-19 doesn’t get complacent.” Image via Facebook

As expected, San Diego County fell back to the most restrictive purple tier of the state’s coronavirus tracking system Tuesday.

It means indoor restaurants will have to move to outdoor service only, retail businesses will have to further limit capacity and schools will be unable to shift to in-person learning — although schools already holding in-person instruction can stay open. Gyms, churches and movie theaters must cease indoor operations. However, hair and nail salons can still operate indoors with modifications..

The new restrictions take effect at 12:01 a.m. Saturday.

County officials said every police agency in San Diego County has been asked to increase enforcement — as well as carry some of the 40,000 masks they’re getting to pass out to maskless members of the public they encounter.

The county’s demotion from the less-restrictive red tier is the result of two weeks of case rates that exceeded the threshold of 7 per 100,000 residents. 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. Testing has decreased slightly and case numbers are on the rise.

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Supervisor Greg Cox said at an afternoon briefing that “today’s bad news is just a moment in time” and not a permanent moment.

Supervisor Nathan Fletcher said San Diego County is in better shape than other spots in the nation, where conditions were “dire,” including Texas. He said Texas made the mistake of basing its reopening decisions on hospitalizations instead of case counts.

Fletcher asked members of the public to report violations at 858-694-2900. Or email Safereopeningcomplianceteam@sdcounty.ca.gov.

State officials reported Tuesday that San Diego County had an unadjusted new daily coronavirus case rate of 10.0 per 100,000. The adjusted case rate dropped to 8.9 per 100,000. Last week’s unadjusted case rate was 8.7 per 100,000.

The county reported 483 new COVID-19 infections and seven additional deaths, raising the region’s totals to 61,053 cases and 915 deaths.

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.

Dr. Wilma Wooten, the county’s public health officer, said retail operations, including indoor shopping centers, will be limited to 25% of building capacity, down from the current 50%. Schools, unless they have already restarted in-person learning, will be restricted to distance learning. K-12 schools already in session can continue, Wooten said.

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 tier. A county then has to be in that tier for a minimum of three weeks before it may move to a less restrictive tier.

Even as the number of cases continues to climb, the testing positivity rate for the region continues a decline. From last week’s data, it dropped to 2.6%, a 0.8% decline. It still 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 5.3% to 6.5% and remained in 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 numbers to determine where counties stand.

San Diego County health officials reported 401 new COVID-19 infections Monday, raising the region’s total to 60,570 cases. No new deaths were reported Monday and the death toll remained at 908.

Meanwhile, the Rev. Shane Harris of the People’s Alliance for Justice said Tuesday that he wanted the county to do a better job of making sure communities of color are properly represented in vaccine trials and the eventual rollout of the COVID vaccinations.

“There is a history that our communities don’t trust vaccine,” he said, citing a figure of 41% of Blacks getting vaccinated in comparison to a 53% rate for Whites.

Harris also called on the City of San Diego to study setting up a Department of Public Health to work in coordination with the county health agency, saying the city can do much more about health disparities. He also urged the county to release race and ethnicity data of COVID-19 vaccination trials.

Of the 10,608 tests reported Monday, 4% returned positive, raising the 14-day rolling average of positive tests to 3.5%.

Of the total number of cases in the county, 4,062 — or 6.7% — have required hospitalization and 938 patients — or 1.5% of all cases — had to be admitted to an intensive care unit.

Three new community outbreaks were reported Monday, two in restaurant/bar settings and one in a business setting. Over the previous seven days, 39 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.

Fletcher said at the County Operations Center briefing: “We may feel … a sense of failure as a county, The simple reality is COVID is spreading everywhere. There are 11 counties in California alone that are moving into more restrictive tiers… Many states .. are in much more significantly worse situations than we are, along with countries around the world.”

He said the virus spread is communitywide — happening in every sector and ZIP code, “which means every single one of us … have to come together and refocus and resharpen our efforts.”

Updated at 5:05 p.m. Nov. 10, 2020

— City News Service

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