Stanislaus is so close to meeting red tier criteria. Many businesses to remain closed

Stanislaus County is hoping to make 40,000 COVID-19 kits for Modesto area Latino community by the end of the weekend.

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Stanislaus County was very close in a coronavirus update Tuesday to meeting the second criteria for moving to a less restrictive tier in the state’s plan for safely reopening the economy.

But the county slightly missed the daily case requirement of 7 per 100,000 population, which will push a broader reopening of local businesses to mid-October at the earliest.

 

According to a California Department of Public Health update Tuesday, Stanislaus County’s positive test rate was 4.7 percent, well below 8 percent required by the state. It’s daily case rate was 7.2 per 100,000, down from 7.6 a week ago. Stanislaus County needs to meet the testing positivity and daily case criteria for two straight weeks to move from the most restrictive purple tier to the red tier.

Before adjustments, the county’s data showed 6.9 per 100,000. The state makes adjustments to the COVID-19 case rate so there’s an apples-to-apples comparison among California’s 58 counties, and one factor that affects Stanislaus is the amount of testing here.

Dr. Julie Vaishampayan, county health officer, said the county’s testing volume needs to be around 1,200 per day to keep from getting adjusted upwards. The county’s testing numbers were lower than that in September.

The county should be reporting less than 40 cases per day to move from the purple tier to red. Vaishampayan said the county was reporting 10 to 30 daily cases in the past week. The state, which updates tier status every Tuesday, looked at coronavirus data for the week ending Sept. 19.

Under the state’s reopening program, a red status indicates the spread of coronavirus in the community is substantial; orange stands for “moderate” spread and yellow is “minimal.”

When Stanislaus is able to move the dial to red, indoor restaurant dining will be allowed at 25 percent capacity, while shopping centers and retail stores could expand to 50 percent capacity. Movie theaters and museums could reopen their doors for the first time in months, and worship services and fitness centers would be allowed with limits on capacity.

State officials announced Tuesday that parks and playgrounds can reopen in counties of every tier, with some restrictions. San Joaquin, Sacramento, Contra Costa and Fresno were among seven counties that transitioned from purple to red status Tuesday.

Tuesday’s update further delayed any movement to reopen public schools for students of all ages. Private schools and eight smaller school districts in Stanislaus County have been approved for waivers to restart in-class instruction for kindergarten to sixth grades, while other districts are waiting for approval.

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The state’s top health officials have aired concerns since Friday about an uptick in COVID-19 infections, giving rise to a projection that hospitalizations could shoot to 5,000 statewide in a month if nothing is done. The state urged the public to wear face coverings and minimize social mixing to keep the virus in check.

A new state policy for accounting for positive rapid tests has raised questions. Stanislaus County’s online dashboard began listing positives from rapid antigen testing as “probable” cases under the state health department’s definition. An updated count Monday showed 19 new cases, 4 probable and two deaths.

At Tuesday’s meeting, county board Chairwoman Kristin Olsen asked if people with positive results from a rapid test should get a polymerase chain reaction test (PCR) to confirm a coronavirus infection. Hospitals and outpatient clinics have often used the 15-minute antigen tests in screening people and safely managing patients during the pandemic.

Vaishampayan didn’t have a firm recommendation on a PCR test to confirm a rapid testing result. She said a PCR test is the standard for confirming COVID-19, though rapid testing is useful for someone waiting to return to work.

Vaishampayan said she doesn’t believe that counting rapid tests as probable will influence the county’s case rate under the state’s reopening plan. What’s likely to complicate matters is a federal government directive for broad use of rapid testing in nursing homes, she said.

“I have no idea how (the state) is going to solve this,” Vaishampayan said.

County Supervisor Terry Withrow again criticized larger school districts for what he sees as foot-dragging in preparations to reopen schools.

He estimated that 76 percent, or 84,000 students, in the county are not back in classrooms even though schools are open in other states. He blamed the delays on pressure from unions.

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