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530 New COVID-19 Cases Reported As County Teeters On Sliding Into Purple Tier

A sign advising of coronavirus precautions on the campus of Scripps Instituti...

Photo by KPBS Staff

Above: A sign advising of coronavirus precautions on the campus of Scripps Institution of Oceanography. Aug. 22, 2020.

San Diego County public health officials reported 530 new COVID-19 infections Thursday, raising the region's total to 58,636 cases. The county is currently awaiting news on whether it will sink into the dreaded purple tier of the state's four-tiered COVID-19 reopening plan by Tuesday.

No new deaths were reported. The total fatalities related to the illness in the county remains at 904.

State officials reported Wednesday that San Diego County had an unadjusted new daily coronavirus case rate of 8.7 per 100,000. The adjusted case rate dropped to 7.4 per 100,000, above the baseline of 7, qualifying the state for the purple, or most restrictive tier of the reopening plan. Last week's unadjusted case rate was 7.8 per 100,000.

RELATED: San Diego County Moves Toward Dreaded ‘Purple’ Tier Of COVID-19 System

"It would take a significant change in trajectory," Supervisor Nathan Fletcher said Wednesday of avoiding purple.

According to the reopening plan, a county has to report data exceeding a more restrictive tier's guidelines for two consecutive weeks before being moved to that more restrictive tier. A county then has to be in that tier for a minimum of three weeks before it may move to a less restrictive tier.

San Diego County has been in the red tier for months, skirting but ultimately avoiding the purple tier, which would necessitate the closure of almost all indoor operations of nonessential businesses. Recent trends have shown a slow but steady increase in infection numbers.

"People are tired of the pandemic and letting down their guard," said Supervisor Greg Cox. "We need to do better. We need to do a lot better and we can do better."

If the county cannot drop its adjusted daily case rate below 7 per 100,000, indoor operations in locations such as restaurants, museums, places of worship, breweries and retail businesses will have to either close entirely, move to outdoor operations only or modify in other ways.

In recent weeks, the region had an unadjusted rate well above the purple tier guidelines, but a significant effort to increase the volume of tests had allowed for an adjustment to bring it back to the red, or substantial, tier.

Dr. Wilma Wooten, the county's public health officer, said retail operations, including indoor shopping centers, will be limited to 25% of building capacity, down from the current 50%. Schools, unless they have already restarted in-person learning, will be restricted to distance learning. K-12 schools already in session can continue, Wooten said.

"Cases are increasing in the region and it is vital that we take this virus seriously and recommit ourselves to the strategies that are proven to work," she said. "Wear a face covering when you go out in public, stay six feet away from others and avoid crowds and large gatherings."

The county's testing positivity rate actually improved, declining 0.3% from last week to reach 3.2%, but remains high enough for this metric to remain in the orange tier.

RELATED: First COVID-19 Vaccine Doses To Go To Health Workers, Say CDC Advisers

The state's health equity metric, which looks at the testing positivity for areas with the least healthy conditions, increased from 5.1% to 5.3% and entered the red tier. This metric does not move counties backward to more restrictive tiers, but is required to advance.

The state data reflect the previous week's case data to determine where counties stand. The next update will be Tuesday.

Of the 15,905 tests reported Thursday, 3% returned positive, raising the 14-day rolling average of positive tests to 3.1%.

Of the total number of cases in the county, 3,995 — or 6.8% — have required hospitalization and 923 patients — or 1.6% of all cases — had to be admitted to an intensive care unit.

Six new community outbreaks were also confirmed Thursday, three in business settings, two in retail settings and one in a faith-based setting. Over the previous seven days, 23 community outbreaks were confirmed. A community outbreak is defined as three or more COVID-19 cases in a setting and in people of different households over the past 14 days.

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