SAN DIEGO COUNTY, Calif. — San Diego County will, again, flirt with having a case rate that puts it on the path toward moving into the purple tier this week, the highest under California’s Blueprint for a Safer Economy. If the county’s adjusted case rate is above 7 when it’s calculated Tuesday, it could start a countdown toward potentially limiting retail capacity and forcing some businesses to operate exclusively outdoors.
On Friday, county health officials estimated the county’s unadjusted case rate at 7.8, well above the limits of the red tier. However, when it is officially calculated by the California Department of Public Health, the rate is typically lowered because the county receives a “credit” for doing more testing than the state median.
If the adjusted rate is higher than 7 on Tuesday, then a seven-day clock is started. If the adjusted rate is still above 7 for seven additional days then the county is moved into the purple tier for at least three weeks. It can only move back into red once the rate is below 7 for 14 consecutive days.
County leaders called on residents to continuing wearing face coverings and washing their hands to help prevent the spread of coronavirus.
“Those folks who are mocking the efforts -- that might make you feel good, but it certainly isn't going to feel good for our small businesses when they're impacted by your actions,” said Supervisor Nathan Fletcher. “Those actions are going to be the actions that, if our businesses have to close, are responsible for this. Those actions are the actions that will contribute to spread.”
San Diego’s last spike in cases occurred in late-June and July after most businesses were permitted to resume indoor operations. The case rate, using the current formula, peaked July 18 at 17.8. The surge of cases also increased pressure on hospitals. On July 23, 514 people were in a county hospital with COVID-19, the most ever since the pandemic began.
Since then, the pressure on hospitals has eased. On Oct. 11, 224 people were in the hospital with COVID-19. A day earlier, just 63 people were in county intensive care units. Both were the fewest since the county began releasing this data on April 1 and April 3 respectively.
Health officials cautioned its case rate data suggests the hospital data could increase if the case rate continues rising.
“Those are the early indicators of how widespread COVID-19 is throughout our communities. Hospitalizations, deaths, and outbreaks are further downstream indicators,” explained Wilma Wooten, M.D., M.P.H., the county’s public health officer.
A return to purple could hurt businesses that continue to struggle with the economic fallout of coronavirus.
It would limit retail capacity at 25% and end indoor dining, fitness, worship, theaters, and personal care services, among other restrictions.
Last month, the San Diego Board of Supervisors approved a $14 million small business grant program using funding from the federal CARES Act.
However, the need far outweighs the available funds. The county approved 776 applications from District 5, the most of any district, to receive a share of $4.1 million. More than $95 million in aid was requested by District 5 businesses alone.
Federal lawmakers have been gridlocked on a second comprehensive pandemic relief plan that may provide help for small businesses and people.
“The federal government, in times like these, are the ones who are responsible for stepping in and providing economic assistance,” said Fletcher. “They're the only ones who can deficit spend, and we really need the federal government to step up.”