Solano County Public Health overly optimistic[Editor: Note five highlighted references to Solano County. – R.S.]
California plans to retire color-coded tiers, as more Bay Area counties poised to enter orangeSan Francisco Chronicle, by Aidin Vaziri, April 2, 2021
California is preparing to retire its color-coded tiered reopening plan as vaccination rates improve and coronavirus cases continue to drop, state officials said Friday, as several Bay Area counties prepared to move into a less restrictive tier next week.
Details about a so-called green tier — which would presumably allow almost all activities to resume in counties with very low threat from the virus — will be “coming soon” as part of the state’s transition toward shutting down the tiered system entirely, said Dee Dee Myers, the state’s top economic adviser.
“We said we would reopen the economy as soon as it was safe to do so,” Myers said during a Friday briefing during which she and the state health officer introduced guidance bringing back indoor events and large private gatherings.
The optimistic update from the state came as cases continue to climb in other parts of the United States and public health officials nationally and locally advised extreme caution in reopening the economy.
Cases are still declining in California, though they’ve flattened in some counties, and the state plans to open vaccine access to everyone 16 and older in less than two weeks as supply improves. Only three counties — none in the Bay Area — remain in the most restrictive purple tier of California’s pandemic reopening plan.
The four Bay Area counties in the red tier, the second most restrictive, could all move to orange next week. Only Sonoma County is currently meeting the state’s orange tier metrics, but the other three — Contra Costa, Napa and Solano — could move too, based on an expected readjustment to the metrics tied to vaccine equity.
The new metrics could also allow San Francisco to move to the least-restrictive yellow tier a bit faster, though the earliest it would be eligible is April 13.
Sonoma County, which had been stuck in the purple tier for more than six months before moving to red three weeks ago, is poised to move into orange on Tuesday unless its numbers suddenly tank — as happened with Napa County last week, when it just missed moving to the orange tier.
“It’s hard to predict for sure, but at the moment, it looks likely that we’re on track to enter orange tier sometime next week,” said Kim Holden, a spokesperson for the county’s Public Health Department.
The move would mean wineries could open indoor tasting rooms and bars, and music and sports venues could open outdoors with limits. Sonoma County would join San Francisco, Marin, San Mateo, Alameda and Santa Clara counties in the orange tier. The state announces new tier assignments every Tuesday, and the relaxed restrictions take effect on Wednesday.
The three other Bay Area counties that remain in the red tier don’t currently meet metrics to move to orange. But they will once the state readjusts those metrics.
California announced a plan in early March tying the number of vaccinations in low-income communities to an accelerated reopening system. The tier assignments already were loosened once, when the state reached 2 million vaccinations in those communities. They will be further loosened when the state hits 4 million vaccinations.
As of Friday the state was at 3.7 million vaccinations in low-income communities. “It’s very possible that sometime next week we will be crossing that (4 million) threshold,” said Dr. Tomás Aragón, the state health officer, on Friday.
Currently, counties need to report fewer than 3.9 cases per 100,000 residents, adjusted based on the amount of testing they do, to move to the orange tier. Contra Costa, Napa and Solano counties are all above that rate. But when the metrics are readjusted, the new maximum case rate for the orange tier will be 5.9 per 100,000. All three counties meet that metric.
“We are currently holding steady and well within the red tier at 5.5 cases per day per 100,000, and especially so when the state closes in on the 4 million doses,” said Shai Davis, a spokesperson for Solano County’s health department . “We aim to see a downward trend in daily new cases and be able to progress to the orange tier when eligible.”
The tier adjustments also would lower the case rate for the yellow tier — from 1 case per 100,000 currently to under 2 cases per 100,000. San Francisco is meeting the second goal, but under state rules it must remain in the orange tier for at least one more week before moving to yellow.
Despite the encouraging signs, the Solano County Department of Health and Social Services on Thursday urged residents to continue to adhere to coronavirus mitigation measures through the upcoming religious and spring break holidays, noting an uptick of new cases.
“The rising number of COVID-19 cases is concerning, especially as we approach the holidays where the risk of spread can increase,” said Dr. Bela Matyas, the county’s health officer , in a statement. “Being in the red tier does not mean we can let our guard down.”
Santa Clara County’s public health officials also cautioned vigilance as they are continuing to see increases in the number and proportion of confirmed cases of coronavirus variants.
“We’re already seeing surges in other parts of the country, likely driven by variants. Combined with the data we are seeing locally, these are important warning signs that we must continue to minimize the spread,” said Dr. Sara Cody, the Santa Clara County health officer.
As of last week, every variant of concern has been detected in Santa Clara County, including variants that are more infectious and may be partially resistant to vaccines. Officials said the county continues to face inadequate vaccine supply.
“If we can’t get more supply, and continued adherence to behavior like wearing masks, then we do anticipate another surge. I would hope it would be a swell, not a surge,” Cody said. She defined a swell as a less intense surge.
“We need people to hold on just a little bit longer,” she said. “Don’t indoor dine, don’t host an indoor gathering, don’t travel. Even if it’s allowed under the state rules, don’t do it. It’s not safe, not yet.”