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Slide representing most recent San Joaquin County COVID-19 numbers as presented by Dr. Maggie Park.

Residents from all over San Joaquin County have been waiting on edge for months to finally get word of when they could finally operate under a less restrictive tier, based on Gov. Gavin Newsom’s Blueprint for a safer economy.

Their wishes were finally fulfilled on Tuesday when the state released its numbers to show that San Joaquin’s COVID-19 metrics were acceptable to move the county into the red “substantial” tier after being locked into the purple “widespread” tier since Dec. 2020. This means less restrictions on business operations and both indoor and outdoor gatherings, as outlined in Tracy Press’ April 9 article titled “State updates tier openings, indoor events and crowd capacities.”

“It's great news. Obviously I'm very happy that we're at red. I'm very happy for our businesses that have been waiting and for all the activities that people have been wanting to do,” said Dr. Maggie Park, San Joaquin County’s public health officer, during the Board of Supervisors meeting on Tuesday. “There's lots more you can do when you're in the red compared to the purple. But we do have to think about avoiding going back to purple, and I really think the next step is to think about going to orange.”

Per state guidelines on accelerated progression rules, counties may move into the red tier after passing the 200,000 vaccine distribution threshold and reaching less than 10 positive COVID-19 cases per-100,000 people per day for two weeks straight.

At its adjusted case rate, San Joaquin County still showcased “purple” metrics this week at 10.1 positive COVID-19 cases per-100,000 per day. However, both the countywide “testing positivity” and “test positivity of health equity quartile” categories showed “orange-tiered” metrics at 4% and 3.4%, respectively. Based on these numbers, the county earned its credit toward moving into the red tier and must maintain or improve these numbers for three weeks in order to move down to the orange “moderate” tier.

“I want to point out that on three occasions, our case rate was 10 or below, and yet we adjusted higher than 10,” said Park. “And that was based on the fact that we had not met the state testing median. So there have been three weeks where we made the case rate and did not meet the adjusted case rate of 10, because we were adjusted upward.”

The state’s COVID-19 testing median, which fluctuates every week, is based on the average total number of tests per-100,000 conducted per-day throughout all 58 counties. Depending on if a county’s daily testing rate falls below or above the state’s median is what affects that county’s adjusted case rate. The state testing median reported this week was at 333.45 tests per-100,000 per day, where San Joaquin County’s was just below at 322.3.

Testing numbers and results are the primary metric that the state uses to keep track of where Counties fall on the tiered system in addition to observing other factors, such as hospitalization cases, COVID-19 variants and vaccine distribution. Because of the amped up vaccine distribution actions, California’s Department of Public Health also announced on Tuesday that it has plans to do away with the tiered system on the tentative date of June 15, dubbing the program “Beyond the Blueprint.”

“As we reach 20 million vaccines administered and COVID-19 case rates and hospitalizations have stabilized, California is looking to move beyond the Blueprint for a Safer Economy to fully reopening our economy. On June 15, all industries across the state can return to usual operations with common-sense risk reduction measures such as masking and vaccinations,” said a memo released by CDPH. “We will only progress to this stage if we continue to stay vigilant, keep wearing our masks and getting vaccinated. The state will monitor hospitalization rates, vaccine access, and vaccine efficacy against variants with the option to revisit the June 15 date if needed.”

While she says that vaccinations are the ultimate endgame to the pandemic, Park urges San Joaquin County residents to not ease up yet as the county is still at a narrow threshold to revert to being in the purple tier. She said the degree of non-compliance among San Joaquin County residents, the low number of people testing and the new active COVID-19 variants in the area are all factors contributing to the slow reduction of COVID cases.

Currently San Joaquin County has at least 58 patients hospitalized due to COVID-19 – with 19 in intensive care – 12 of which are on ventilators.

“It is because of the tireless efforts of San Joaquin County, our community partners and local residents that the County is able to move into the Red Tier,” said Park. “However, the relaxing of restrictions should not encourage residents to let their guard down. We are urging community members to continue to do their part to help maintain our momentum by getting tested, taking the necessary precautions to avoid contracting and spreading COVID-19 and being vaccinated once they are eligible.”

• Contact Brianna Guillory at bguillory@tracypress.com or 209-830-4229.

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