Just days after seeing a disappointing increase in a new COVID-19 metric aimed at bringing infections down in hardest-hit areas, county health officials are now reporting that overall numbers continue to decline.
Greg Diederich, the county’s Health Services director, told the San Joaquin County Board of Supervisors Tuesday that two metrics needed to advance to the orange tier of the state’s Blueprint for a Safer Economy have now been met.
The county’s test positivity rate was at 3.3% Tuesday, down from 4.1% last week, and the newly added health equity metric for testing dropped to 4.6% from 7.4%.
“Both testing metrics are now in the orange tier, but case rate remains in red tier, and we need to have all three of these metrics in the lower orange tier for two consecutive weeks,” Diederich said. “Presently we do not have any weeks worth of credit, and unfortunately, I believe we’ll remain in the red tier for at least the next several weeks.”
The county’s adjusted case rate as of Tuesday was 4.9 per 100,000 residents, down from 6.9 per 100,000 reported last week. That metric must be less than 3.9 per 100,000 in order to advance to the next tier.
Diederich said overall numbers continue to decline as well, reporting daily cases have dropped to less than 79.
In addition, the state is reporting that the county’s potential reinfection rate has remained at .67, meaning every current resident infected with COVID-19 has the potential to spread the virus to roughly one person. He said the county’s rate is less than the state average, which was reported at .95 Tuesday.
According to San Joaquin County Public Health Services, there have been 21,436 positive COVID-19 cases since the pandemic began, and 484 deaths. Diederich said the county is experience far fewer daily deaths as well, as reports are nowhere near the more than 5 a day reported during the month of July.
Hospitalizations continue to decline as well. On Tuesday there were only 23 people being treated in the county’s seven facilities, five of whom were in an intensive care unit, Diederich said.
Despite the declining numbers, Diederich said county public services will be increasing its testing capacity in preparation for a predicted second wave of positive cases in the coming weeks.
“By December, our public health lab should acquire and certify a high output PCR device, increasing our health lab daily surge capacity for COVID-19 testing to 1,400 a day,” he said. “And currently, the state average testing turnaround time is now 1.2 days.”
Diederich said the county received 14,000 new antigen testing kits from Abbott Labs, which will be used to screen asymptomatic individuals.
He added county public health has purchased two ultra-low temperature freezers to store COVID-19 vaccinations when they are made available, most likely by the end of 2020. The county is currently working with the state to procure vaccines, he said.
Contracts with Verily and OptumServe — which have provided affordable COVID-19 tests at San Joaquin General Hospital and Lodi Public Library — are expiring at the end of November, he said, adding those two facilities are underutilized.
Supervisor Chuck Winn, who represents Lodi, said it’s suspicious that even when a vaccine is developed and distributed, the state may enact more metrics that would prohibit counties and cities from completely reopening.
“I’m frustrated because for all the work we’re doing, we’re busy going one direction, then all of a sudden we go this direction and we throw all of our resources that way,” he said. “I think, unfortunately, we’re wasting a lot of time and resources on this effort and creating a lot of frustration, and in some cases, despair and depression with regard to our population.”
Winn added he was disappointed with politicization of the pandemic and the state’s tendency to add metrics or change its recovery plan. He said it was effectively hindering a county’s ability to return to some sort of normalcy.
“The people I talk to... people are really fatigued with this whole issue,” he said. “As one of those in the category of most susceptible to risk, I would state I think I know what I have to do to protect myself, and I don’t need a governor or a president to tell me what I can and can’t do. So from that vantage point, we have really handicapped our population with regard to reopening.”