SAN DIEGO — San Diego County could move into the red tier next week after the state announced it is close to meeting its vaccine equity metric.
The metric redirected a bulk of vaccines to California’s hardest-hit ZIP codes. Once two million doses were distributed there, the state would expand the maximum case rate needed for all counties to qualify to move into the red tier, therefore making it easier to qualify.
“We’re at 1.9 million [doses] today. On Friday we will pass that goal, which I’m very, very pleased to say,” said Gov. Gavin Newsom during a stop at a vaccine clinic in South Gate, near Los Angeles, on Wednesday.
If the metric is met on Friday, it puts San Diego County in line to move to the red tier next Tuesday with a loosening of restrictions on indoor activities expected soon after.
Currently, counties in the purple tier must have an adjusted case rate of 7.0 or lower for three consecutive weeks to move into the red tier. Under the new structure, counties need an adjusted case rate of 10.0 or lower for two consecutive weeks to move to a lower tier.
San Diego had an adjusted case rate of 8.8 this week and is on track to have a rate below 10.0 next week.
“We have one week in the bank and expect under 10 so there is a high probability next Wednesday that we descend into that tier,” said Supervisor Nathan Fletcher.
Even if the state doesn’t meet its vaccine equity metric, San Diego could still qualify to move into the red tier because it is on track to meet the health equity metric. This allows counties to move into the red tier if they are doing enough testing and seeing a low enough percentage of positive cases in high-need communities that they would qualify for the orange tier.
San Diego met this goal for the first time this week and is on pace to continue meeting it next week.
“Even if we don’t hit the trigger for a higher case rate, if those don’t change, we would have the ability to descend into the red tier next week,” affirmed Fletcher.
San Diego’s potential move into the red tier next week could lag other Southern California counties. Los Angeles County, for example, has already had two consecutive weeks with a case rate below 10.0. Some supervisors there have called on health officials to loosen restrictions this weekend if the state meets its vaccine equity goal.
The prospect of so many counties moving to lower tiers has prompted state health officials to begin working on what a green tier may look like. Currently, the lowest tier is yellow.
“As we start to reopen as we get to 10, 15, 20 million vaccinations and get closer and closer to herd immunity then we will start to make it clear that these tiers were temporary,” said Newsom. “They’re not permanent and there’s something beyond orange and yellow and that green tier will start to present itself.”
The likelihood of reaching herd immunity, or roughly 70% of the population aged 16 and older, is still several weeks, if not months away. Supplies of vaccines remain limited and the state has not received as many shipments as it hoped to get.
Newsom said the federal government’s three-week outlook showed California should receive 1.7 million doses this week, 1.75 million next week and 1.8 million the following week.
Many of the shipments will be Pfizer or Moderna’s two-dose vaccine. The state has not received as many doses of Johnson & Johnson’s recently approved one-dose vaccine as it initially expected.
“Our only constraint is manufacturing supply. At the end of the day, we have the ability to [vaccinate] double that today. You’re seeing that reflected at sites all across the state,” said Newsom. “We don’t anticipate, based on the window that was just provided, any additionally J&J [shipments] in the immediate term…The good news is they are now ramping up expectations in a month and I think this is what should give us all a little bit of confidence going forward.”