SAN FRANCISCO (CBS / AP) – Los Angeles and San Francisco were able to enter California’s least restrictive coronavirus on Thursday, despite having more infections per capita than some other populous boroughs.
The reason for this is that they continue to test for the virus more aggressively than elsewhere, despite the nationwide focus on vaccinations.
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Under California’s four-tier, color-coded system for resuming business and other activities, a county that runs more testing is rewarded by lowering its virus drop rate. The lower the fall rate, the lower the restrictions.
Although neighboring Orange County has a lower per capita case rate and San Bernardino County has a similar one, Los Angeles moved to the lowest tier – yellow – this week as the rate was adjusted to run more testing while the other two counties remained orange, one step higher.
The same dynamic was playing out in the Bay Area. Marin County had a lower number of infections per capita than San Francisco, but stayed a notch higher because not as many tests were done.
Dr. Clayton Chau, health officer for Orange County’s 3.2 million residents, questioned the state’s decision to allow counties doing more testing to allow more business.
“I always thought the adjusted rate gave people a false sense of security,” Chau said in an email.
The latest state data shows an average of 655 tests per 100,000 residents in Los Angeles County and 586 tests in San Francisco. The corresponding numbers in Orange and San Bernardino were 288 and 286, respectively, while Marin was 410.
To reach the Yellow Level, a county must have fewer than 2 new confirmed cases per 100,000 people per day. Los Angeles, which has about a quarter of the state’s nearly 40 million residents, had three cases, but that number was adjusted to 1.6 based on the testing level. Orange County’s unadjusted rate was 2.4 while that of San Bernardino was 3.
In San Francisco, the rate was adjusted from 2.9 to 1.8, while Marin only increased from 2.8 to 2.5.
When the animal system was introduced last summer, there was no vaccine, and state officials wanted to encourage as many people as possible to get tested so that they can quickly identify voltage spikes in certain cases.
Barbara Ferrer, director of health for Los Angeles and the country’s largest district population of 10 million, said she was “happy with the testing rates and I have no concerns.”
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California suffered more than 61,000 deaths during the pandemic and its cases exploded to record levels last winter. Now the infection rate and cases are among the lowest in the country.
That has allowed many more states to reopen, although there are still only seven out of 58 counties in the lowest area. Most – 39 – are in the orange row.
Governor Gavin Newsom has set a date for June 15 when the state should return to normal operations, as long as vaccinations continue and coronavirus cases remain low. It wasn’t immediately clear what rules would apply after that date, but the move is expected to end the color-coded animal system in California.
Lucy Dunn, executive director of Orange County Business Council, said small businesses are better off under the current rules, but capacity constraints at more restrictive levels are hampering large venues like theme parks and convention centers.
They also limit activity in businesses like Disneyland’s cafes and shops, which reopened last week but are only 25% busy. If the county were in the yellow row, it could have 35% capacity.
“Where the levels matter, there are the big venues, high-profile economic multipliers,” said Dunn.
In Riverside County’s 2.4 million population, health officials have been so focused on getting people vaccinated that less attention has been paid to testing, said Jose Arballo, a spokesman for the county health department.
A decrease in testing was expected once people got their shots back, although testing was expected to continue for athletics, for example, he said.
Arballo said coronavirus cases in the county are declining, although it’s hard to know if switching from the orange to the yellow plains before the state reopens in mid-June would be enough.
That’s what Orange County businesses are looking for, Dunn said. She said it was not clear what public health regulations would remain in place if the metrics were dropped from county to county.
“When can we plan what this guide will look like?” She said. “Give us guidance on the next steps – because we are there and ready.”
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