Indoor reopenings on track

If trends hold, inside operations could resume as early as Tuesday

Rebecca Neipp

News Review Staff Writer

Indoor reopenings on track“We have fantastic news: this morning the state is going to announce that Kern County does meet the metrics for Tier 2 in all of our categories.”

If progress toward driving down transmission of COVID-19 continues along current trend lines, the county could advance as early as next week into the “Red Tier,” which allows most businesses to re-open operations indoors, so long as reduced capacity and health and safety protocols are maintained.

Brynn Carrigan, assistant director of the Kern County Department of Public Health, made the announcement Tuesday to the Board of Supervisors.

Since Gov. Gavin Newsom announced the “Blueprint for a Safer Economy” in August, Kern County has been working to meet the benchmarks for case and positivity rates that allow communities to relax their restrictions. However, the state has twice adjusted those metrics that have made it more difficult to re-open, regardless of community transmission.

To move from the “Purple Tier,” which has the most restrictions, into the “Red Tier,” counties must demonstrate COVID-19 cases fewer than 7 per 100,000 residents, and a positivity testing rate of less than 8 percent.

The numbers are reported according to a 7-day rolling average, and counties must meet metrics for the next tier for two consecutive weeks in order to advance.

However, in early September Newsom imposed an inflated positivity rate to counties (including Kern) that tested lower than the state average.

Last week, the state announced the California Healthy Places index that classifies residents according to socioeconomic status, education and healthcare access (among other factors). Positivity rates for the “lowest core tile” of residents, based on that index, must also align with positivity rate requirements in order for counties to progress into the next tiers.

As of this week, Kern County falls well within those metrics, with a reported 5.5 case rate (including the state’s new adjustment), a 4.7 percent overall positivity rate, and a 6.2 percent positivity rate in the lowest core tile.

If those numbers hold on Monday, restaurants, museums, movie theaters and numerous other operations that have been closed since July will be allowed to reopen at 25 percent capacity on Oct. 13.

“This is really great news for us in Ridgecrest,” said Tim Smith, executive director of the Ridgecrest Chamber of Commerce.

Transmission in the Indian Wells Valley has been low for months, but state guidelines prohibited our opening up until county numbers stabilized.

“It was very frustrating for a lot of people in Ridgecrest, considering that barrier between East and West Kern. Watching our numbers drop and still being unable to open has taken a toll on our community,” said Smith.

“I think this latest news is encouraging. Having our gyms, our restaurants, our museums and our movie theater open again is positive for our residents, and I hope it also offers some of our businesses a chance to recover from the last several months of closures.”

Supervisor Mike Maggard noted that the county is also close to meeting the requirements for moving into the third “Orange Tier,” which allows businesses to expand indoor operations to 50 percent capacity.

Carrigan noted that according to state guidelines, counties are required to demonstrate metrics for the next tier for a minimum of two weeks before advancing. Counties are also mandated to spend a minimum of three weeks in each tier. So even if our metrics qualify, the earliest Kern could move into the third tier would be Tuesday, Nov. 3.

The county has implemented several new strategies to ensure that underprivileged communities are able to access testing and health care, which improve county health as well as our chances of qualifying to reopen.

Carrigan also announced that the county’s dashboard (located at kernpublichealth.com) has been updated to include demographic information about local deaths. The revised dashboard now reports age ranges, ethnicity, sex and underlying conditions for those who have perished from COVID-19.

“That will help our communities to understand what those risk factors are,” said Carrigan.

More information about the state’s four-tiered system of reopening, which includes searchable options broken down by county and activity, can be viewed at https://covid19.ca.gov/safer-economy/.

Pictured: Maturango Museum Executive Director is ready to let the public back inside — as soon as they get the green light from the state and county. — Photo by Laura Austin

Story First Published: 2020-10-09