Remaining in red tier, COVID case rates bring Yolo further from orange

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Yolo County continues to head in the wrong direction in the effort to control spread of the novel coronavirus.

For the second week in a row, the county’s daily new case rate rose, pushing a move to the less restrictive orange tier further away and making a return to the most restrictive purple tier more of a possibility.

The state’s update of counties’ tier status on Tuesday reported Yolo County’s adjusted daily new case rate at 5.3 per 100,000 residents — up from 4.2 last week — keeping the county solidly in the red Tier 2.

Those numbers are based on the week prior to Oct. 13, the county’s interim health officer, Dr. Larissa May, told the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday, and data from the week since then shows cases have only continued to increase.

Both an outbreak at the Alderson Convalescent Hospital in Woodland, now affecting more than 30 people, May said, as well as large social gatherings that continue to occur are behind the increase in cases.

“If that trend continues,” May said, “it could mean that we might meet the criteria for the more restrictive purple tier. If the purple tier metrics are met consecutively for two weeks, then that would necessitate going back to purple.”

At risk is the survival of many businesses in Yolo County that would face a third shutdown during the course of this pandemic. Restaurants, gyms, movie theaters and other businesses shut down back in March, then were given the go ahead to reopen in late May and early June before having to shut down again a month later. Many only reopened, with limited indoor capacity, earlier this month.

Also at risk is future in-person instruction for the county’s K-12 students.

After two weeks in the red tier, schools in Yolo County were officially cleared to reopen for in-person instruction, and many private schools have. However, none of the public schools have done so yet.

“The five school districts are thinking about being able to open in a hybrid model in January,” May noted on Tuesday.

But while schools that have opened already would not have to close if the county returns to purple, schools that have not yet opened would not be allowed to except under waivers for K-6 students.

“Because they’re closed to in-person instruction right now,” said May, “if we were to go back in the purple, that would jeopardize their ability to open.”

The county would move back to purple if its daily new case rate hits 7 per 100,000 or higher for two consecutive weeks. Moving to the orange tier would require a daily new case rate below 4 for two weeks.

The county health department hopes to prevent a return to purple by taking a stricter stance on gatherings.

The state last week limited gatherings to no more than three households, to be held outside and for no more than two hours.

And while the county cannot be more lenient than the state, it can be stricter, and Yolo County plans to do so by issuing a health order limiting gatherings not just to three households but also to no more than 16 individuals from those households.

“The purpose of this is really to try to get a handle on the local parties and the gatherings,” said May. “It’s a sacrifice that the community needs to make in order to allow us to continue to support businesses and also to allow our students to be in school at some point.”

County supervisors praised the plan.

“It was the private gatherings that led to a lot of our increase last time we had a significant uptick in cases,” said Supervisor Jim Provenza of Davis, “so I think that the focus there makes a lot of sense. And also having a number — everybody can count to 16 — is a lot easier than trying to determine who is in what household.”

“It isn’t just an academic exercise or a punitive one,” said Supervisor Gary Sandy of Woodland. “This is a way of ensuring that our local economy, our local business climate can continue to operate and continue to service customers. And obviously the people in Yolo County remain healthier by following these measures.”

All county health orders, from requirements to wear face coverings and physically distance to restrictions on gathering are enforceable by local code enforcement officers. Violations can lead to administrative fines, though Sandy noted that “the initial enforcement will be educational, which is to say people will be told that their gathering is too large … so it won’t be punitive in its immediate impact but a means of trying … to move into a better place, which should be the effort of every Yolo County resident.”

Two pieces of good news that came out of Tuesday’s state update: the county’s test positivity rate and healthy equity metric (which measures the test positivity rate in the county’s most disadvantaged zip codes) both continued to meet the metrics required for the orange tier. However, both those metrics as well as the daily new case rate must meet the requirements if Yolo County is going to move to the less restrictive tier.

Moving to the orange tier would allow businesses that were able to reopen after entering the red tier three weeks ago to welcome more customers inside. Restaurants could increase indoor dining capacity from 25 percent to 50 percent, while gyms and fitness centers could increase capacity from 10 percent to 25 percent.

Additionally, places of worship and movie theaters could increase capacity from 25 percent to 50 percent.

And new on Tuesday: professional sporting events at outdoor stadiums may now resume in counties in the orange tier. Capacity is limited to 20 percent and other restrictions apply, including:

* Ticket sales are restricted to customers who live within a 120-mile radius
* Advance ticket sales and assigned seats are required
* Eating and drinking are allowed only in assigned seats; and
* Face coverings are mandatory except when eating and drinking.

In her update to the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday, May was asked for more information about the COVID-19 outbreak at Alderson.

The family-owned skilled nursing facility located on Walnut Street in Woodland is in the midst of its second outbreak. The first occurred over the summer and was contained after 27 people were infected and three died.

This second outbreak, May said, likely began when a staff member who did not know he or she was infected brought the virus into the facility.

So far 30 people have been infected and at least two are hospitalized, May said.

“This outbreak is, of course, a concern,” she told county supervisors. “It is, in part, driving our numbers up and we can expect next week’s numbers to continue to climb… There are likely to be more hospitalizations and more deaths as well.”

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