A man is tested for coronavirus at a drive-up site. Courtesy County News Center

San Diego County public health officials on Saturday reported 540 new COVID-19 infections and one new death related to the pandemic illness.

The latest report raises the region’s total to 59,656 cases and 908 deaths as the county continues to await news on whether it will sink into the dreaded purple tier of the state’s four-tiered COVID-19 reopening plan.

Official have said the number of new cases must drop into the rage of 200 to 300 per day to avoid moving from the red tier to purple.

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. Recent trends have shown a slow but steady increase in infection numbers.

If the county cannot drop its case rate, then 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.

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.

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.

“Cases are increasing in the region and it is vital that we take this virus seriously and recommit ourselves to the strategies that are proven to work,” she said Thursday. “Wear a face covering when you go out in public, stay six feet away from others and avoid crowds and large gatherings.”

The state data reflect the previous week’s case data to determine where counties stand. The next update will be Tuesday.

Chris Jennewein

Chris Jennewein is Editor & Publisher of Times of San Diego.