Based on the recent downward trend of positive COVID-19 cases and the increase in vaccinations, San Joaquin County is on the right track to move itself into the Orange “moderate” tier and can reach the status as early as May 4, according to Public Health Officer Dr. Maggie Park.
As of Tuesday, the county is at 8.2 new COVID-19 cases per day per 100,000 residents, with a 3% positivity rate – based on a seven-day average – and a 3.3% health equity quartile positivity rate. This leaves the county currently in the Red “substantial” tier, which it reached earlier this month after being stuck in the Purple “widespread” tier since Dec. 2020.
Based on California’s Blueprint for a Safer Economy, San Joaquin County would need to have a case-rate of below 5.9 new COVID-19 cases per day per 100,000 residents for at least three weeks. The county’s positivity rate and health equity quartile positivity rate already fall into the Orange tier.
“So the very earliest we could have moved to orange would have been April 27, next Tuesday. However, today, as you can see, we have not earned a credit towards orange with our case rates still above in the red. And you need two weeks of credit towards the next year to move,” said Park during Tuesday’s Board of Supervisor’s meeting. “So the earliest we could have possibly advanced to the orange would have been April 27. But this week, April 20, we have not earned a credit towards orange. If we do earn a credit towards orange on April 27 and, again, we remain in the orange on May 4, that is truly the earliest possible day that we would be moving to the Orange tier.”
With California’s “Beyond the Blueprint” plan – which would effectively eliminate the current “tiered” system in place – slated to commence on June 15, Park sees moving to the Orange tier just a few weeks prior as giving the county a head start in bouncing back with looser restrictions after over a year of strict COVID-19 guidelines.
“So how do we get to orange? Really, it's increased testing, increased vaccinations, and we need to continue to wash our hands and mask up,” said Park.
However, the logical reasoning and frequency in changes in the state’s plans, left the county’s board conflicted on how to feel and proceed.
“Now, the June 15 date, regardless of what a testing rate is, I want to confirm, and if I recall correctly, it would be based on vaccines, how many vaccines are the supply and the hospitalization rate, right? ... So these numbers wouldn’t matter,” said District 5 Supervisor Robert Rickman, who pointed out the inconsistencies and “moving of goalposts” in California’s COVID-19 guidelines.
Park explained that the date of June 15 was chosen by the state based on the number of available COVID-19 vaccines in the near future, the recent announcement that residents 16-years-and-over were now eligible for receiving vaccines and hospital metrics.
As of this week, about 31% of San Joaquin County’s residents have been vaccinated. That number jumps to over 50% if you only count older adults, who are statistically the most susceptible to contracting severe COVID-19 symptoms. Park said that ideally the county will be between 50 to 70% vaccinated by June 15 in order to reach herd immunity.
District 4 Supervisor Chuck Winn questioned the validity of remaining so restricted. He referred to states like Michigan, which is currently experiencing a COVID-19 variant outbreak despite its state being in a strict lockdown. By contrast, states like Texas and Florida have similar population densities as California and have maintained the same level of COVID-19 infections, despite having mostly opened up their states.
“I think people in this state are just tired. And when you talk about June 15, if for whatever reason that there's a new formula, matrix or whatever to open, and maybe do away with some of these restrictions – and if we don't do that, because there's some new matrix that we haven't met – I think people are way beyond that,” said Winn. “I think, you know, what we're seeing now, as far as, for a lack of better term “disobedience,” is going to just explode, because people are just tired.”
Winn also pointed out that the fairness of comparing San Joaquin County to other “more resourced” counties like Alameda and Santa Clara was questionable.
Park said the state was making its decisions based on overall metrics for all 58 counties, but that her main concern and priority was focusing on the outreach for San Joaquin and plans to focus on educating those who are hesitant to be vaccinated. This includes addressing mixed messages and “myths,” such as claims of the vaccine being rushed and unsafe to the misconception that those who have already contracted the virus have developed a natural immunity to it.
Information about COVID-19 and vaccinations within the county can be found at www.sjready.org. Those still seeking out mass vaccination events throughout the state, including San Joaquin County, should register with the state’s MyTurn app.
• Contact Brianna Guillory at firstname.lastname@example.org or 209-830-4229.