Credit: Connor Frost | Mustang News

San Luis Obispo County could be moving from the widespread, purple tier to a less restrictive substantial, red tier as early as next week if current trends continue, San Luis Obispo County Public Health Officer Dr. Penny Borenstein said in a county news briefing on Feb. 11. 

By moving into the red tier of the Blueprint for a Safe Economy, local restaurants could operate indoors at a limited capacity. Other local businesses such as zoos, museums, movie theaters and gyms could also reopen. Schools that haven’t begun reopening could also do so after two weeks of remaining in the red tier. 

San Luis Obispo County re-entered the purple tier after the regional stay-at-home order was lifted on Jan. 25. Before the stay-at-home order was declared on Dec. 5, the county had been in the purple tier since mid-November. 

According to Borenstein, California Public Health Officials use three metrics to determine the Blueprint for a Safer Economy tier system: case rate, positivity rate and health equity metrics. 

Case Rate

The COVID-19 case rate is the number of cases of the virus per 100,000 people, according to the California Department of Public Health. 

This week, San Luis Obispo County’s case rate was 19.3%. While this remains firmly in the purple tier, it is a decrease from last week’s 22.6%. 

“We are making progress,” Borenstein said. “Over several weeks now, we have been seeing the case rate go down.”

In order to move out of the purple tier, the case rate must be below 7%. 

Positivity Rate

COVID-19 positivity rate is the percentage of tests that confirm a positive case of COVID-19. A higher positivity rate suggests higher transmission and that there are likely more people with COVID-19 in the community that have not yet been tested, according to the California Department of Public Health. 

“The positivity rate in SLO County is quite good,” Borenstein said. 

This metric alone places San Luis Obispo County in the orange tier.

Health Equity Metric

This metric ensures that the test positivity rates in the most disadvantaged neighborhoods do not significantly lag behind the overall county positivity rate. This is also referred to as the Health Equity Quartile of the Healthy Places Index (HPI) census tracts, according to the California Department of Public Health.

HPI is an overall measure of socioeconomic opportunity applied to census regions that measure different indicators across economic, social, education, transportation, housing, environmental and neighborhood sectors. Those in the bottom quartile of HPI are considered in the health equity metric.  

The positivity rates for places that are in the lowest quartile in San Luis Obispo County are 4.8%, placing the county in the orange tier of this metric as well. 

What does this mean?

According to the Blueprint for a Safer Economy, a county will remain in the most restrictive tier of any of its metrics. But, if two of the three metrics are two tiers lower than their highest tier, then the county can move to the tier in between.

San Luis Obispo County’s case rate falls in the purple tier, the highest risk level. The county’s case rate is much higher than what is needed to move to a less restrictive tier. 

Despite the high case rate, San Luis Obispo’s positivity rate and health equity metric both fall into the orange tier, which is two levels better than the purple tier that the county is currently in. 

The county’s rates have been following this trend for one week. If San Luis Obispo County can keep the positivity rate below 5% and keep HPI around the same as the county’s overall positivity rate for one more week, the county can move to the less restrictive red tier. 

“That is very good news for our community,” Dr. Borenstein said. It is good news for our businesses. It is good news for our schools.” 

Borenstein congratulated the community but encouraged them to continue following Public Health Department guidelines. She warned that any of these metrics could change if we open too fast and too aggressively.

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