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BEA AHBECK/NEWS-SENTINEL Carbon Health medical assistant Hector Loya and Adventist Health Lodi Memorial RN Cathleen Myers get ready to test as Gloria Gallegos waits to be tested during a free COVID-19 testing event at the First Baptist Church parking lot in Lodi Friday, Aug. 14, 2020. Adventist Health Lodi Memorial teamed up with El Concilio to provide free drive-thru COVID-19 testing in Lodi.

STOCKTON — Although the California Department of Public Health created a new metric in order for counties to further progress through the COVID-19 tiers for reopening days ago, San Joaquin County is already on the verge of meeting its goal.

Last week, the CDPH created the health equity metric, which required counties with more than 106,000 residents to bring infections down in the hardest-hit places where the poor, Hispanics and Latinos, Black and African Americans, and Hawaiian and Pacific Islanders live.

Counties must also invest heavily in testing, contact tracing, outreach and providing means for infected people to isolate in these demographics.

On Tuesday, San Joaquin County Public Health Officer Dr. Maggie Park said in order for the county to move into the orange tier, it must now ensure the testing positivity rate for Black residents and Latinos is less than 5.2%.

Currently, the positivity rate for those two demographics in San Joaquin County is 5.7%, according to Park.

Hispanics and Latinos make up 41.1% of the county’s population, and account for 29.9% of COVID-19 cases, and 41.9% of deaths related to the virus.

Although the state reports its Black community has also been hit hard by COVID-19, in San Joaquin County, the demographic only accounts for 3.6% of the population and 6.6% of cases. The county’s Black residents also account for 10% of COVID-19 deaths.

While this new metric is required for the county to move from the red to the orange tier, Park said not meeting the metric will not cause the county to be moved back a tier.

In order to lower the county’s health equity metric, Park said more personal protective equipment must be given to Black people and Latinos who are considered essential workers, and access to testing must be increased in underprivileged areas, among other measures.

According to the CDPH, counties must also submit plans that show how they will invest in epidemiology and laboratory capacity for prevention and control of COVID-19 transmission among these disproportionately affected populations.

Investments can include spending on augmenting testing, disease investigation, contact tracing, isolation and quarantine support, and education and outreach efforts for workers.

Plans must be submitted to the CDPH before a county can progress to the next less restrictive tier, effective next week.

Park highlighted the county’s recent efforts to reduce COVID-19 among its Black and Hispanic populations, including providing a free testing site every Monday at Eastland Plaza in Stockton, as well drive-thru testing sites in Manteca, Stockton and Lathrop.

She also noted Adventist Health Lodi Memorial’s free testing sites at First Baptist Church and at the San Joaquin County Fairgrounds in partnership with El Concilio last month.

While the county is close to meeting this new metric, it has already met the overall test positivity rate to advance to the orange tier.

In order to move into the orange tier counties must reduce test positivity rates to less than 4.9%, and reduce case rates to less than 3.9% per 100,000 residents over a seven-day period.

As of Tuesday, the state was reporting that San Joaquin County’s rate was 4.2%. However, its case rate as of Tuesday was reported at 6.4%.

“We have not earned our credit for orange yet,” Park said. “But we have stayed in the red tier this week, and I think we can stay there, looking at these numbers.”

Park added the county’s overall COVID numbers are beginning to slow, noting that total cases since the pandemic began was 20,731, an increase of just 162 from Monday. There have also been 472 deaths from COVID since March.

In addition, Park said there were only 31 people hospitalized due to COVID-19 as of Tuesday, and just 11 being treated in the intensive care units at all seven hospitals throughout the county.

“These numbers are way down from previous reports,” she said. “I wanted them to go down further, like what we had in May, by the time flu season started. But they are still going down and that’s impressive.”

According to the state, the county’s re-infection rate is .87, which means every resident currently infected with COVID-19 has the potential to spread the virus to one person.

The state is also projecting just 31 people in the county will be hospitalized with COVID-19 by Nov. 5, and that 533 people will have died from it by that time.

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