STOCKTON — In an effort to move into the California Department of Public Health’s Blueprint for a Safer Economy’s red tier sooner rather than later, the San Joaquin County Board of Supervisors wants to incentivize residents to continue getting tested for COVID-19.
How the board plans to do that, though, remains to be seen.
The board held a special meeting last Friday to discuss possible options that would entice residents after health officials reported last week that less people are being tested as more vaccines become available.
Matt Paulin, the county’s assistant administrator, told supervisors Friday that 2,400 people are being tested a day, but that is below the state median that would advance the county to the red tier.
Paulin said the county would like to test more than 3,000 people a day, and suggested providing residents with $25 gift cards when they are swabbed for COVID-19. This incentive program would last about a month, he said.
“We think that level of testing would allow the state to adjust our case rate downward and get us under that 10 per 100,000 mark that will get us into the red,” he said. “So the math we used would assume that everyone getting tested would get a gift card. We’ve also recognized that’s a pretty steep price tag, so we’ve also come up with some alternatives.”
Those alternatives, Paulin said, included varying the monetary amount of gift cards between $5 and $25, providing school supplies to youngsters as districts return to in-person instruction, or raffling off a car.
The latter option, he said, needs to be further vetted by staff.
Funds for the incentive program would be provided by $2 million from the county’s contingency provision budget.
The county’s current new case rate is 11.7 per 100,000 residents, and has been on the brink of red tier promotion for about a month.
The test positivity rate is 4.6%, which qualifies for the orange tier, and the health equity rate is 5.4%, which qualifies for the red. If both of those metrics qualify for orange Tuesday and hold for a week, the county will receive one-week’s worth of credit toward red.
Supervisor Robert Rickman said he supported the gift card idea.
He also suggested looking into using testing results from schools and sports programs as part of the county’s overall testing rate to add a consistent population into qualifying for the metric.
“I know other counties are implementing programs similar to what we’re discussing here today,” he said. “I don’t think any of us want to spend money, however, we have to get out of this purple tier. I don’t see any other way to do so. We have to incentivize people to get tested, and I think depending on what the board does is a way to do that.”
Supervisor Kathy MIller liked the idea of handing out school supplies, but thought that would be better utilized at a school testing site. She too favored gift cards, but thought they should all be the same amount, as many families could use $25 for groceries and other necessities.
“As much as I like the idea of raffling off cars, I think we have to deal with a couple of realities,” she said. “One is, trying to implement something like that is going to be difficult. Two, studies have shown that incentives are more effective when they are immediate, when they are directly tied to the behavior you’re trying to generate. So in that case, taking a test and being handed a gift card is probably going to be more effective.”
Board chair Tom Patti and vice chair Chuck Winn were concerned with gift cards valued as much as $25, stating that handing out 3,000 cards worth $25 each would use up about $800,000 of the county’s $2 million in funding toward the program in less than two weeks.
“If we are going to initiate this, we should do it for a certain amount of time,” Winn said. “And the logistics is ... how many times can I get tested? Can I get tested every day and get my $25 gift card? Is there some tracking process where you only get one gift card per week or month? The question is, what are the details as to how we roll it out, apply it, and address accountability to make sure it isn’t abused.”
The board unanimously voted to table Friday’s discussion for its April 6 meeting so staff can further vet how to implement a gift card incentive program.
However, supervisors requested that San Joaquin County Public Health Services and the county’s Office of Emergency Services move forward with setting up COVID-19 testing options in conjunction with county-sponsored vaccine events, an idea suggested by Supervisor Miguel Villapudua.
County public health services said 167,849 vaccine doses have been administered, with 87,934 residents fully vaccinated as of Monday.
In Lodi, 16,416 vaccines have been administered, with 8,683 residents fully vaccinated. San Joaquin County is one of eight remaining in the purple tier, along with Glenn, Yuba, Merced, Fresno, Kings, Madera and Inyo.
Trinity, Lassen, Plumas, Yolo, Marin, San Francisco, San Mateo, Santa Clara and Mariposa counties are all in the orange tier, while Alpine and Sierra counties are the only two to have been promoted to yellow.
The remaining 39 counties in the state are currently in the red tier.
Tier assignment announcements are expected to be made at noon Tuesday.