Monterey County is still in the Purple Tier, but inching closer to the Red Tier.
Sara Rubin here, thinking of how one year ago at this time, we anticipated closures might last for a few weeks. Event organizers rescheduled from spring to summer of 2021 (oops) and it seemed like a big deal when schools announced they’d remain closed for the remainder of the 2019-20 school year.
By now, a lot of us have become accustomed to a mostly-closed world. But a lot of community members remain out of work—in December, Monterey County’s unemployment rate was 11.4 percent. That’s down from the start of the pandemic, when it hit a record of 20.2 percent, but the need to get people back to work and the economy moving remains. But for a year, it’s been a dance between reopening—to benefit the economy, but also our mental and physical health, and to end social isolation—and remaining closed, in order to stop the spread of Covid-19 and save lives.
Since the state of California introduced its county-by-county system of tiers, Monterey County has been stuck in the Purple Tier, indicating that the risk of Covid-19 transmission is widespread. With that high risk level—calculated based upon the test positivity rate and new cases per 100,000 people each week—our economy has stayed in the most restricted set of guidelines.
It feels like such a long time ago, before a holiday-season surge and widespread stay-at-home orders took effect, that Monterey County officials in November sought permission to get upgraded to the less restrictive Red Tier. We moved backwards before we moved forward, and statewide data released yesterday puts Monterey County within reach of Red Tier status. Per the latest figures, Monterey County has 7.2 new Covid-19 cases per 100,000 people and a test positivity rate of 3.1 percent. That test positivity rate is good enough to bring us into the Red Tier, and cases per 100,000 is close—we need to be under 7. If we can stay there for two consecutive weeks, state health officials will move us from the Purple Tier to the Red Tier.
There’s a new layer to this formula as of this week, which has to do with the state’s goal to get vaccinations distributed in the communities that most need them. If they get to the statewide target of 2 million vaccines in the zip codes that are disproportionately harmed by Covid, this whole blueprint gets adjusted—and we’d be in the Red Tier already. (The new threshold would be 10 new cases per 100,000, a threshold we already meet.)
That means if enough vaccines roll out in the coming days and we keep our new case count low, Monterey County could move from the Purple Tier to the Red Tier as early as next week. (Generally the state updates county metrics every Tuesday, so the change could come as early as Wednesday.)
Here’s some of what Red Tier status would mean: Indoor dining can reopen at 25-percent capacity (although bars remain closed); the Monterey Bay Aquarium can be open for indoor visitors, at 25-percent capacity; retail store capacity would go from 25 percent to 50 percent; grocery store capacity would go from 50 percent to full; in religious services, the maximum number of people singing or chanting is no longer limited to 10; hotel fitness centers can reopen at 10-percent capacity.
But even amid the excitement about partial reopening potentially just a week away, health officials remain cautious. If we get too comfortable too quickly, we risk continuing to spread the virus. With that, we risk moving our county back into the more restrictive tier, forcing newly opened businesses to close again—and we risk more hospitalizations and death.
As we clamor for reopening and signs of normalcy, and try to keep up with ever-changing state metrics, Monterey County Health Officer Edward Moreno’s message for what we can do remains remarkably similar to the message he delivered a month ago, six month ago, and one year ago. “What's really in our control as a community is to continue to make efforts to reduce transmission of Covid-19,” Moreno told reporters in a press briefing today. “That's really what we need to focus on. The metrics depend on the level of transmission in each county. That means face coverings, washing hands, social distancing—that's what we have control of.”
-Sara Rubin, editor, email@example.com