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Fresno County could be moved back into the state’s most restrictive “purple” tier for business operations as early as next week if local COVID-19 numbers don’t improve, officials said Tuesday.

According to new state data, Fresno County now has a 5.3% test positivity rate (up from 4.8% last week), and 7.2 cases per 100,000 residents (up from 6.3 last week).

To stay in its current “red” tier, Fresno County numbers need to continue to have less than an 8% test positivity rate and reduce new cases per 100,000 residents to less than 7 over the next week.

Fresno’s Top Doc Concerned

“Our case rate and our test positivity are both sliding upward which is very honestly concerning.”Fresno County interim health officer Dr. Rais Vohra

During a Tuesday afternoon Zoom briefing with reporters, Fresno County interim health officer Dr. Rais Vohra was sounding the alarm.

Vohra says the number of COVID-19 tests being done in the county has dropped below the state average which is adversely impacting the numbers. He’s hopeful an upcoming health officer order asking that all primary doctors start doing COVID-19 testing will help.

“Our case rate and our test positivity are both sliding upward which is very honestly concerning,” says Vohra.

If the numbers that came out Tuesday don’t change, Fresno county will slide back into the purple tier next week, he said.

“No one wants that,” says Vohra. “That would be tremendously disruptive. We would have to ask to close indoor operations again. We certainly don’t want to go in that direction.”

Fresno County Schools

Schools may not reopen fully for in-person instruction until the county has been in the red tier (meaning “substantial” COVID risk) for two weeks. That would make the date of October 13 an important marker for Fresno County schools and health officials to start implementing reopening plans.

But, if the county drops into the purple (“widespread” COVID risk) category that could eliminate that possibility. Vohra says if that happens, he will call the state health department to see if that would preclude him from allowing any grades from 7-12 from opening. Some elementary school waivers have been granted with more to follow.

New State Equity Metric

The state’s Blueprint for a Safer Economy now includes a health equity metric which will be used (along with other metrics) to determine a county’s tier. The purpose of this metric is to ensure California reopens its economy safely by reducing disease transmission in all communities.

The California Healthy Places Index  is a composite measure of socioeconomic opportunity applied to census tracts that includes 25 individual indicators across economic, social, education, transportation, housing, environmental and neighborhood sectors.

Each county’s census tracts will be divided into quartiles based on HPI.  While the state’s lowest quartile HPI census tracts are home to 24% of Californians, they account for 40% of COVID-19 cases.  Consequently, the Blueprint for a Safer Economy framework includes two measures to address the public health impact of populations mixing more as counties move through tiers and more activities are allowed.

Merced County Moves Into Red Tier

Merced County progressed to the less restricted red tier on Tuesday.

Under the red tier, some non-essential indoor businesses are allowed to resume operations.  The businesses authorized to reopen under this less restrictive tier include:

  • Dance studios – can open indoors with 10% max capacity
  • Gyms and fitness centers – can open indoors with 10% max capacity
  • Higher education institutions – may open some indoor lectures and student gatherings at 25% max capacity or 100 people, whichever is less
  • Movie theaters – can open indoors with 25% max capacity or 100 people, whichever is fewer
  • Museums – can open indoors with 25% max capacity
  • Places of worship – can open indoors with 25% max capacity or 100 people, whichever is fewer
  • Wedding (ceremonies only) – can move to indoors with 25% max capacity or 100 people, whichever is fewer
  • Restaurants – can open indoors with 25% max capacity or 100 people, whichever is fewer
  • Tattoo parlors and Piercing shops – can open indoors with modifications

At this time, schools K-12 will remain closed for in-person learning.

If data remains stable or improves for an additional two weeks, schools will be able to reopen for in-person learning.

While rates in Merced County are improving, if the county’s metrics worsen for two consecutive weeks, the state may require the county to revert to the more restrictive tier.

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