SAN JOAQUIN COUNTY, Calif. — San Joaquin and Stanislaus counties could be in store for a long-overdue breath of relief as their COVID-19 stats continue to drop.
If all the trends go the right way, officials in both counties say they could be making the leap to California’s red coronavirus tier by the week of March 15. Both counties are currently in the purple “widespread” tiers, which is the most restrictive one.
The red tier would allow a number of businesses to partially reopen indoor with modifications, and, if the case rate metrics line up, children could also return to the classroom in Stanislaus County.
There’s only a couple of things standing in the way, the adjusted case rates and testing volume. In other words, the counties need a case rate of 7 per 100,000 or lower to move into the red tier, and, to get there, they say more people need to get tested.
“We’re getting there. We need a few more people tested but we’re starting to look much better than we have been in the past,” said Tiffany Heyer, spokesperson for San Joaquin County’s Officer of Emergency Services.
There’s certainly a gap to close, but it’s not insurmountable. Stanislaus’ case rate is 15.7 cases per 100,000 and San Joaquin is at 11.6 per 100,000. If they can reach that 7 per 100,000 case rate and maintain their other stats, they'd just have to hold it for two weeks to move forward with reopening. The current downward trend is spurring excitement and some optimism that the red tier is within reach sooner rather than later.
“These are good milestones to get to, and in order for us to get there, we need to continue maintaining our distance, wearing our face coverings and getting tested and avoid any gatherings to be in the red tier,” said Kamlesh Kaur, spokesperson for Stanislaus County Public Health.
Testing could be one of the biggest factors at play, and the message for both counties is a simple one: get tested.
Kaur said testing is a key metric in finding out how many cases are in the community, and in turn, it is also key to how they reopen the county.
“When more people get tested, we can go back to that (red) tier and say, ‘well, our risk is substantial but it’s not widespread,’” Kaur said.
Heyer added that everybody should be getting tested. She said that people who test when they feel fine are part of what helps drive the numbers down.
“I know it seems kind of counterintuitive to go and tell people who don’t feel sick at all to go get tested, but it really will prove that we’ve done what we’ve needed to, that we are continuing to stay home, wash our hands, wear a mask, physically distance from each other and that those measures are working, we didn’t just do them in vain,” Heyer said.
For counties and businesses that have been under lockdown for weeks, if not months, it’s a bit of catharsis, or some time to finally catch a breath from the restrictions. However, even if that red tier marker is met, there’s still more to do.
“Red is not our end game. We need to be in yellow tier, so most, if not all of our sectors, can safely open,” Kaur said.
Heyer echoed a similar sentiment, noting that the pandemic doesn't end just because the county reaches a new tier.
“We’re really hoping that as we move forward that people continue to take this seriously and still realize that we’re still in a pandemic, but the more precautions that we can take as we move forward… we may be getting closer to the end of this, and we may be seeing a return to normal soon hopefully,” she said.