San Diego County inches closer to red tier

Mike Pidgeon talks with RN Debbie Ispen after getting a shot.
Sharp Healthcare partnered with VEBA to open the Cal State San Marcos Vaccination Center and give education workers the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine shot on Monday, March 8, 2021 in San Marcos, CA. Here, Mike Pidgeon talks with RN Debbie Ispen after getting a shot.
(K.C. Alfred / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

An identical score of 8.8 cases per 100,000 residents next week is likely to do the trick


San Diego County posted a new tier score of 8.8 cases per 100,000 residents Tuesday, March 9, a number that while not enough to push the region up a tier this week, nonetheless bodes well for next week.

No move was possible this week anyway because exiting the state’s most-restrictive purple tier requires red tier-worthy scores in two consecutive weeks.

However, this week’s score of 8.8 does line things up nicely for next week.

That’s because the state has said it will increase the threshold for making the red tier from 7 cases to 10 cases per 100,000 once the state has collectively delivered at least 2 million coronavirus vaccine doses to residents of more than 400 ZIP codes across the state listed in the bottom quarter of California’s Healthy Places Index, a statistical sounding board that estimates access to a wide range of factors that, together, are said to contribute to healthy living.

As of March 8, according to the state’s vaccination dashboard, nearly 1.9 million doses have landed in those locales. It will take only another 100,000 doses sent to health equity ZIP codes this week, and that should be no problem as California consistently receives more than 1 million doses per week and a new source of supply — the single-dose Johnson and Johnson vaccine — has now started arriving.

By the time the next tier report is published next Tuesday, March 16, then the red tier threshold should be increased from 7 to 10.

Dr. Mark Ghaly said during a media briefing last week that his department will consider retroactive approval for counties whose case rates were 10 or under previous to the threshold being adjusted upward.

In an email sent Monday afternoon, however, the California Department of Public Health said it will act quickly and “tier reassignments will be done for the last two blueprint runs.” It appeared that the the state will not wait for next Tuesday’s normal tier update to take action. The agency noted that once the 2 million goal is reached, a reassignment of tiers “would be announced the next day and will then be effective the day following that announcement.”

Based on that statement, it appears that, were the state to reach 2 million doses this week, or even next Monday, the state would immediately look back two weeks and find that the region’s two most recent scores are 8.8 and 10.8, meaning that San Diego would not be among those immediately moved into the red tier. However, a second score at 10 or under next Tuesday, were the threshold moved up to 10 this week, would likely mean a move up to red on or about St. Patrick’s Day.

Such a move would open the way for upper grade schools to begin the reopening process, would allow restaurants and some other businesses to again operate indoors at reduced seating capacities and, on April 1, would allow stadiums, outdoor concert venues and amusement parks to start welcoming guests again, though at very-low occupancy rates and only with social distancing and masking still in place.

— Paul Sisson is a reporter for The San Diego Union-Tribune


4:59 a.m. March 10, 2021: This story updated to reflect additional information from the California Department of Public Health.