Only one county left in purple tier as California's COVID-19 reopenings continue
People walk along the boardwalk on Forest Avenue in Laguna Beach on March 30th (Allen J. Cockroaches / Los Angeles Times)
Only one county is still on the strictest section of the California reopening roadmap. This is an encouraging sign of progress in the fight against the coronavirus as businesses and other public spaces continue to reopen.
The only remaining resident of the purple tier is Merced County, according to state data released Tuesday. Inyo County had kept it company but had officially moved to the less restrictive red line.
The recent exodus from the purple stage was breathtaking. Thirty-four of California's 58 counties were in that category as of March 9th. In the previous month, all but five districts were in this category.
Also advancing this week are Kern and Lake Counties, which have moved from the red to the even milder orange tier, and Lassen Counties, which have progressed to the yellow tier, the least restrictive of the four categories in color. coded blueprint for reopening.
As the counties move through the tier framework, they can gradually reopen more types of businesses with greater capacity.
The key to taking the swift move towards a larger reopening is that fewer Californians will be infected with the coronavirus, even though more residents are getting their COVID-19 vaccinations.
As part of the state's current reopening strategy, districts are categorized into one of four color-coded levels based on three metrics: coronavirus fall rates, adjusted for the number of tests performed; the rate of positive test results; and a health equity metric designed to ensure that the positive test rate in poorer communities is not significantly higher than the county's total.
However, metrics for sorting counties changed last month as more Californians living in areas hard hit by the coronavirus were vaccinated.
The state has set a goal of delivering 2 million - then 4 million - doses to disadvantaged communities - in the bottom quarter of a socio-economic meter called the California Healthy Places Index.
When the state hit its original target of 2 million in mid-March, it began allowing counties with an adjusted case rate of up to 10 new cases per day and 100,000 people to leave the purple tier and move into the red. Previously, the fall rates in the counties had to be at or below 7 per 100,000 inhabitants in order to get into the red level.
After hitting 4 million doses last week, the state continued to rewrite the blueprint to relax the criteria for transitioning to the orange tier from fewer than 4 new cases per day per 100,000 population to below 6. and raised the yellow tier entry allowance to an adjusted daily rate of new cases below 2 per 100,000 people, versus the old requirement of less than 1.
The changes sparked a wave of reopenings as dozens of counties were vacated to move to less restrictive levels faster.
Merced is about to finally get out of the purple plain. The only thing holding it back is the fall rate, which is still a little too high at 10.1.
The county would need to log two consecutive weeks of the required metrics to make progress, which means the purple plains of California won't be empty until the end of the month.
In the past, counties have at times declined to more restrictive levels when case rates have worsened, but that possibility has diminished. The state now says: "If there are no extenuating circumstances such as a low vaccination rate, a county will only move to a more restrictive level if hospital admissions for vulnerable people, especially vaccinated people, increase significantly and show both test positivity and adjusted case rates a worrying increase in transmission. "
On June 15, the state plans to round up its reopening roadmap. California has set that date as a target for a full resumption of economic activity after more than a year of coronavirus-related closures.
Opening the doors depends on two factors: adequate vaccine supplies and a small, stable number of people hospitalized with COVID-19.
California continues to see promising signs on the latter front. Although there has been some swings, the number of COVID-19 patients in hospitals nationwide (1,839) was as low as it was since last spring as of Monday.
However, vaccine supply is a more difficult issue.
On Tuesday, California announced it would temporarily cease administration of Johnson & Johnson's single vaccine - a move federal health officials recommended after reports of six serious blood clots across the country.
This followed news that the state - like the nation as a whole - would reduce expected shipments of this vaccine.
Last week, California was allocated 574,900 Johnson & Johnson cans. This week, that number will drop to 67,600, an 88% decrease, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
And state health officials said the allotment is expected to decrease further to 22,400 doses next week.
Despite that decline, California will continue to open state-wide access to vaccines to residents 16 and older starting Thursday.
"As the federal government has said, we do not expect any significant effects on our vaccination allocations," said state epidemiologist Dr. Erica Pan in a statement. "In California, less than 4% of our vaccine allocation this week is the Johnson & Johnson vaccine."
So far, providers across California have given 23 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine and 38.8% of residents have received at least one shot, CDC data shows.
According to federal data, nearly 875,000 Johnson & Johnson doses have been administered nationwide to date.
This story originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times.
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