[Note from BenIndy Contributor Roger Straw: Well, it finally ALMOST happened. My wife and I have been ultra careful, and so far are among the increasingly rare few who have not contracted the coronavirus. Mary Susan is immune compromised, so we still wear masks in the grocery and other crowded indoors places. But we were seriously exposed when close family members tested positive a day or two after celebrating a birthday in our own home. They got on Paxlovid right away, and are fine, but only after a really miserable 2 weeks. We isolated and tested negative every other day for 10 days – and whew, still have not got the bug. Thank goodness we celebrated with windows wide open and seated widely spaced at the long dinner table. Please know that COVID is back, it’s around you, and it is no fun when you get it! And… it can be really serious, even long-lasting. Read on….]
How to navigate renewed COVID threat in the Bay Area
A local theater troupe cancels a weekend of performances because cast members have COVID. A Sunday luncheon is postponed because the hostess has fallen ill. A colleague catches the coronavirus on a trip back from Italy. The nearby Walgreens is sold out of home test kits.
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.”
It’s been close to a month since Gov. Gavin Newsom announced additional restrictions for counties on the state’s COVID-19 monitoring list. In that time, the list has grown to encompass every county in the Bay Area and over 90% of the state’s population.
Is there anywhere in the Bay Area close to escaping the list? We’re tracking the metrics county-by-county below, using data compiled by this news organization. Currently, hospitalizations are trending in the right direction in most of the region, but there isn’t one county that meets the per-capita case threshold necessary to come off the list, according to our calculations.
San Mateo County, with a rate of 12.5 cases per 10,000 residents over the past two weeks, is closest to falling below the state threshold of 10, followed by Santa Clara County, with a per-capita rate of 13.9 per 10,000.
The California Department of Public Health uses six criterion to determine if there is elevated disease transmission, increasing hospitalizations or limited hospital capacity in a county.
Testing rate: Below 1.5 per 1,000 population per day over past 7 days
Case rate: Above 10 per 10,000 population over the past 14 days
Positivity rate: 8% or higher over past 7 days if 14-day case rate is less than 10 but higher than 2.5 per 10,000
Hospitalizations: Increase of 10% or more in 3-day average vs. previous 3 days
ICU capacity: 20% or less beds available
Ventilator capacity: 25% or less ventilators available
Falling out of line with any one of the six metrics for three days lands a county on the list. To come off, a county has to meet all six markers for three straight days.
Under the most recent health order, counties on the monitoring list for three days are also forced to close gyms, personal-care services, nonessential offices, places of worship and malls in addition to the statewide closures of bars, indoor dining and other indoor entertainment. To be eligible to open schools for in-person learning, a county must be off the list for 14 days.
Note: CDPH uses a 7-day lag when tracking its data, while this news organization compiles the most up-to-date data from county health departments. Recently discovered underreporting of tests and cases could skew the data. Because of the faulty data, CDPH has temporarily paused adding or subtracting counties from the monitoring list. There is no standardized number of ICUs and ventilators per county publicly available, so that data is not included below.
population: 1.67 million
Cases per 10,000 (past 14 days): 15.7 (+6.6% since previous 14-day period)
We are under orders to stay home. But there are exceptions. These are generally the functions that we need to keep people fed, healthy, housed and informed, and to maintain a minimal level of government and critical public services.
For Bay Area county health orders, and for Gov. Gavin Newsom’s separate statewide directive, the goal is to preserve “essential” services. Similarly, President Donald Trump’s nonbinding coronavirus guidelines make exceptions for critical infrastructure industries.
Now, we’re seeing individuals and industries rushing with dubious justifications to claim that special status. Come on, folks. This has got to stop. We are in the middle of a pandemic that could kill millions around the world, including an estimated 100,000 to 240,000 people in the United States.
Bay Area and state health officials have had to make tough choices. For our own health, and that of everyone else in the region, state, nation and world, we must respect those decisions.
We must use common sense.
Without widespread and effective testing that would allow identification of those infected, the only way to slow the spread of the coronavirus is self-isolation across the nation and the world. Just because you’re feeling fine doesn’t mean that you’re healthy – up to 25% of infected people don’t show symptoms.
Which is why it’s so appalling that, as of Thursday, 12 states still had no statewide orders to stay home. And some leaders show stunning ignorance of the threat.
Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp finally issued a stay-at-home order on Wednesday, but only after claiming that he just learned about asymptomatic carriers of the virus, something health officials had been warning about for two months.
Wisconsin plans to hold its primary election on Tuesday, but its Republican-controlled Legislature has refused the Democratic governor’s request that all voters be automatically mailed ballots so they can vote at home.
Meanwhile, in the Bay Area, which led the nation with its shelter orders, we’re smarter than that. But it’s critical that everyone follows the rules. And stop trying to wiggle out of them. We’re talking about:
• Firearms dealers who filed a federal lawsuit claiming they have a Second Amendment right to stay open. Apparently, they haven’t noticed that the First Amendment rights to peaceably assemble have also been jettisoned. During a global health crisis, there’s no essential need to purchase weapons, even if Trump seems to think there is.
• A Lodi church that refuses to end services, claiming First Amendment rights to exercise religion. Members of Cross Culture Christian Center should consider what happened at Bethany Slavic Missionary Church near Rancho Cordova, where, according to the Sacramento Bee, 71 members have contracted the virus, one parishioner has died and the bishop and other church officials have been hospitalized.
• Operators of Golden Gate Fields racetrack who prioritized people’s ability to play the ponies rather than the public health – until the Alameda County district attorney on Thursday ordered the operation shut down.
• Attorneys for Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes, who asked a federal judge to deem them an essential service so they could serve subpoenas and interact with witnesses before her criminal fraud trial, scheduled to start this summer. The judge, in a teleconference hearing, wasn’t buying it.
• Labor leaders for the Bay Area construction trades, who want to keep working. The Bay Area health orders allow limited construction for critical public services, affordable housing and other essential reasons. But that’s not good enough for the members of the local and state Building and Construction Trades Council, who insist they’re better at sanitizing and social distancing than other occupations.
This is hard. People are making huge sacrifices, including often their jobs and income. But we must all put the common good ahead of our personal interests – as difficult as that might be in many cases. People’s lives depend on it.
The more exceptions to the health orders, the more the coronavirus will travel, the more our hospitals will be overwhelmed and the more people will die. It’s that simple.