San Joaquin County is under the state’s most restrictive standard for reopening the economy under COVID-19, with the county unlikely to relax that standard anytime within the next three weeks.

On Friday, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced the state’s new “Blueprint for a Safer Economy,” which describes four tiers of COVID-19 restrictions. Newsom explained that instead of putting counties on a watch list, the state will use a standard of two criteria — new cases per day, and positivity rate among those tested for COVID-19 — to determine whether a county should be required to operate under more restrictive quarantine rules.

The four-tier system still has San Joaquin County among 38 of California’s 58 counties in the most restrictive tier. Under the new color-coded system, any county that has more than seven new positive cases a day for each 100,000 residents lands in the purple “widespread” tier.

The new chart that the state released at covid19.ca.gov/safer-economy shows San Joaquin County with an average of 16.6 new cases a day per 100,000 people, based on lab-confirmed positive cases recorded in the second week of August. The county also has an 11.3% rate of people's tests for the coronavirus coming back as positive.

To move to the next tier, the red “substantial” tier, the county must average no more than seven cases a day per 100,000 people, on average, for at least two weeks in a row. The county must also reach a positivity rate of less than 6%. A county can only move to a less-restrictive tier after being in its present tier for at least three weeks. Additional tiers include orange for “moderate” spread, with less than four new cases a day per 100,000 people, and yellow for “minimal” spread, with less than one case a day per 100,000 people.

Dr. Maggie Park, San Joaquin County’s public health officer, in her presentation of the new rules to the county board of supervisors on Tuesday, pointed out that the new system was designed to allow a slow transition from one tier to another even if a county showed sudden and substantial improvement.

“To my estimation, really, our countdown starts on Sept. 8, and we would need to stay in the purple tier for three weeks and have two consecutive weeks meeting the red metrics before we can move on,” Park told the board. “So the earliest we possibly could move on might be Sept. 22.”

Until then, school campuses will remain closed throughout San Joaquin County, as will concert venues, convention centers and festivals. Bars that don’t serve meals must also remain closed, as must tattoo and piercing businesses.

Restaurants are still open for outdoor service and takeout; professional sports events can operate without spectators; and worship centers, gyms and yoga studios can open for outdoor activity only. Retailers, banks, and service and repair shops also can open, but with restrictions.

Park noted that schools in the county can apply for waivers for in-person instruction if San Joaquin County gets down to 14 new cases a day.

The first COVID-19 cases in California were reported in January, and cases rose steadily from mid-March on, and then rose sharply in mid-June. Most of California’s 712,052 COVID-19 cases have been reported in the past seven weeks, but it was also about seven weeks ago that coronavirus cases peaked and began to decline.

New cases peaked July 21, with 12,807 cases reported that day in California. Reports of new infections declined for about two weeks, but jumped again the second week of August and reached 12,614 cases on Aug. 14. Reports of new infections dropped again after that, and the 3,712 new cases reported Aug. 31 were the lowest total since June 16, when 3,455 new cases were reported.

California has seen a steady decrease in coronavirus-related hospitalizations over the past seven weeks. On Tuesday, there were 4,851 people in the hospital with confirmed or suspected COVID-19 in California, the fewest since June 21, when 4,804 people were hospitalized. Hospitalizations peaked July 21, when 8,820 people were hospitalized, and then declined again.

Deaths statewide from COVID-19 reached a peak about a month ago, with 219 single-day fatalities reported statewide on July 31, the most so far during the pandemic. The death rate remains fairly high, with more than 100 deaths per day in 23 out of 31 days in August.

New cases in San Joaquin County increased through June and well into July. After a brief decrease the first week of August, new daily cases reached a high of 536 on Aug. 8. While reports of new cases generally decreased in August, more than 200 cases per day were reported in 12 of 31 days in August.

Hospitalizations have also been on the decline in San Joaquin County, which had 102 COVID-19 patients in county hospitals as of Sunday, the lowest number since June 25. Hospitalizations peaked on July 27 at 262.

The San Joaquin County Office of Emergency Services reported that Wednesday was the first day since July 4 that hospital intensive care units had been below 100% capacity for two consecutive days.

Sutter Tracy Community Hospital reported that 29 of its 38 beds were in use Wednesday, with nine of those patients being treated for COVID-19, including one COVID-19 patient in intensive care.

Deaths from COVID-19 also increased substantially in July and August in San Joaquin County, with 23 fatalities on July 28 as the single-day peak. As of Tuesday, San Joaquin County had reported 330 COVID-19 deaths, including 160 deaths during the month of August and 116 deaths in July.

Tracy has had 1,467 confirmed cases since the start of the pandemic.

Contact Bob Brownne at brownne@tracypress.com or 830-4227.

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