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San Diego County Remains In Purple Tier Despite COVID-19 Improvements

A nurse helps prepare syringes with the Moderna vaccine at the Coronado Commu...

Photo by Jacob Aere

Above: A nurse helps prepare syringes with the Moderna vaccine at the Coronado Community Center, Mar. 1, 2021.

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Despite considerable improvement in handling the COVID-19 pandemic in recent weeks, San Diego County will remain in the state's "Purple Tier" for at least one more week.

Aired: March 3, 2021 | Transcript

Despite considerable improvement in handling the COVID-19 pandemic in recent weeks, San Diego County will remain in the state's "Purple Tier" for at least one more week, it was announced Tuesday, as county officials reported 376 new infections and 14 deaths related to the virus.

Posting an adjusted case rate of 10.8 new daily cases per 100,000 people, the county still has to drop below 7 per 100,000 to enter the red tier in the state's four-tiered reopening system. In the red tier, some indoor businesses such as gyms, movie theaters and indoor dining can reopen.

Listen to this story by Jacob Aere.

Reported by Jacob Aere

County Supervisor Nathan Fletcher said it was just a matter of time before the county moved up.

"San Diego County is headed in the right direction, our cases are dropping and the number of vaccines administered continues to lead our state," he said Tuesday. "We are seeing more school openings and know we are on the path to a lower tier. It is vital we continue to do everything we can to slow the spread and continue our forward progress and momentum."

The county's other metrics under the state reopening plan are also trending favorably. The seven-day positivity rate is just 4.2%, low enough to put San Diego County in the orange or moderate tier. The health equity quartile positivity rate — which looks at the worst-performing quarter of a county's residents — is in the red tier with 6%. The state judges each county by its worst-performing metric — in San Diego County's case, the daily case rate.

Part of what is lowering COVID-19 infections are vaccinations. The county reports more than 21% of county residents 16 and older have received at least one shot of the two-dose Moderna and Pfizer vaccines. And just over 10% of San Diegans are fully immunized against COVID-19.

Dr. Hai Shao is an infectious disease physician affiliated with Sharp Chula Vista Medical Center. Shao said herd immunity may still be a ways off, but he expects the county to double the number of people who are fully vaccinated by next month.

“I’m very confident within the next month or so we will be rapidly approaching that 20% range, especially now that the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is a single-dose, one-shot vaccine. Once you get the one dose, 28 days later you will establish full immunity against the virus.”

San Diego is expected to receive its first shipment of Johnson & Johnson’s coronavirus vaccine at some point this week.

“They can be stored safely in a fridge for up to three months and it remains stable if you freeze it at minus 20 degrees up to three years,” Shao said.

While not as overall effective as the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, Shao said Johnson & Johnson’s single dose vaccine is highly effective in reducing severe cases of COVID-19.

RELATED: CDC Panel Endorses Johnson & Johnson’s One-Dose COVID-19 Vaccine

“It is roughly 72% against all infections and what's more important is that it is 86% protective against severe disease.”

Shao said that people who have received the vaccines should continue to practice physical distancing as well as other COVID-19 safety measures like wearing masks for the time being.

The county's largest vaccine site, Petco Park, is scheduled to reopen Wednesday after closing Saturday due to a vaccine shortage. According to UC San Diego Health, which runs the site, all appointments for Saturday, Sunday, Monday and Tuesday have been or are being rescheduled.

People who were scheduled on those days can check their MyUCSDChart account — the health system's electronic notification system — or email for details.

Of the county's population over the age of 16, 21.7% — or 583,239 people — have received at least one dose and 10.4% — or 278,470 people — have been fully inoculated.

Tuesday's data increased the cumulative totals in the county to 261,001 cases while the death toll increased to at 3,317.

Of 9,303 tests reported by the county, 4% returned positive. The 14-day rolling average decreased to 3.7% from Monday's 3.8%.

Hospitalizations decreased to 483 from Monday's 491. People in intensive care beds remained at 151.

One month ago, there were 1,303 people hospitalized with COVID-19, 392 of whom were in the ICU. There are 54 available, staffed ICU beds in the county.

There were no new community outbreaks reported Tuesday. In the past week, there were 29, tied to 121 cases.

Gov. Gavin Newsom and legislative leaders announced a multibillion-dollar deal Monday aimed at enticing schools to resume in-person instruction for young students by April 1, but previously existing San Diego Unified plans for vaccinations of teachers and reduced transmission rates make it unlikely the district will meet that date.

The deal — which still needs formal legislative approval — would create a $2 billion incentive pool, with money doled out to schools that reopen campuses for students in pre-kindergarten through second grade, as well as high- need students of all ages. The money will go toward safety improvements, such as ventilation systems and protective equipment.

The proposal does not order schools to reopen, but schools that fail to do so by April 1 will lose a percentage of their funds for every day they miss the deadline.

San Diego Unified School District leaders announced last week that they set a targeted date of April 12 to allow students of all grade levels to return to the classroom — provided the county drops into the red tier — nearly a year after the district closed its schools due to the pandemic.

Under the plan, teachers — who will have the choice to be vaccinated - - will return to classrooms a week before then, on April 5. The plan is a hybrid model and students will have the option to continue learning from home. COVID-19 safety protocols will continue to be observed on campuses indefinitely, officials said.

More than 20,500 vaccines were being reserved exclusively for educators in San Diego County, the California Department of Public Health announced Monday. Fletcher said 20% of vaccine doses will be prioritized for teachers and school staff, as opposed to the 10% outlined by state leaders.

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