How fast to reopen during COVID-19?

Photo from U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Some Sacramento County officials call for more flexibility in COVID-19 rules, while some residents call for an end to ‘tyranny’

Sacramento County reached the less restrictive red tier Sept. 29 week that allowed more business reopenings. It appears on track to hit the even less restrictive orange tier by Halloween—the official goal.

But that isn’t fast enough for some local elected officials who want Folsom freed from COVID-19 restrictions sooner.

In a letter Oct. 6 to Gov. Gavin Newsom and state Health and Human Services Secretary Mark Ghaly, they called for a “more flexible and real world approach” by allowing county health departments to reopen communities by zip code instead of countywide when COVID-19 numbers are low enough.

They cite the city of Folsom, which they all represent and which they say is being penalized for being in Sacramento County even though its coronavirus numbers are similar to nearby El Dorado Hills in El Dorado County, which is already in the orange tier. Neighboring Placer County also moved to the orange tier on Oct. 13.

As of Oct. 13, Sacramento County Public Health reported 23,969 cases and 458 deaths countywide, including 429 cases and 6 deaths in Folsom.

The elected officials also point out that that while the state’s Blueprint for a Safer Economy is based on counties, the state last week announced a new equity metric that is based on test positivity rates in disadvantaged census tracts.

“As leaders of our communities, we are seeing firsthand the devastating impacts the current economic shut down is having on the livelihoods of those we represent. Small businesses are closing permanently, jobs are being lost, schools remain closed, and some communities may never fully recover,” says the letter, signed by state Assemblyman Kevin Kiley, state Sen. Brian Dahle, Folsom Mayor Sarah Aquino and Sacramento County Supervisor Sue Frost.

Some residents want to go even further than the officials.

Frost and other county supervisors, who received an update Tuesday on the COVID-19 response and on the $45 million they allocated, were assailed by about 10 public commenters who called on them to end the local public health emergency, reopen all businesses and schools and stop mask requirements. The callers said the lockdown is unconstitutional and unsupported by science and vowed to hold supervisors accountable for taking away their rights.

One caller argued that President Trump had gone through COVID-19 “with flying colors,” while another said supervisors are breaking the law by continuing what she called “tyranny.”

But even if supervisors ended the local emergency, the county would still be under statewide public health orders. And Olivia Kasirye, the county’s public health officer, warned that even with a vaccine, people would still need to take precautions for as long as two years.

The state first lifted the lockdown in mid-June. But after a spike in deaths and cases, it reversed course in mid-July and ordered another shutdown. It created a new blueprint to reopen more safely.

Sacramento County had been in the most restrictive purple tier since that blueprint took effect in late August. On Sept. 29, the county moved to the red tier, which allowed restaurants to again offer indoor dining, while only at 25% capacity or 100 people, whichever is less. The same limits apply to movie theaters and places of worship.

All schools will be allowed to resume in-person classes only if the county stays in the red tier until Oct. 13, when Sacramento County plans to update its public health order. There will be training for contact tracing and school visits, the Department of Health Services said.

The orange tier allows more kinds of businesses to open and eases capacity limits. As of Sept. 29, Sacramento County was at 6.6 new cases a day per 100,000 people and a 4.6% test positivity rate. As of Oct. 6, the county had improved to 5.3 new cases a day and a 3.4% positivity rate.

UPDATE: As of Oct. 13, the county’s numbers were 5.1 new cases per day and a 2.8% positivity rate. It also recorded a 4.0% test positivity rate in disadvantaged census tracts. To qualify for the orange tier, it would have to get to fewer than 4 new cases a day and keep the test positivity rate below 5%. Or it could lower its test positivity rates overall and in disadvantaged census tracts under 2%.

A county must meet the next tier’s criteria for two consecutive weeks, and must stay in a new less restrictive tier for at least three weeks. So the soonest Sacramento County could move to the orange tier is Oct. 27.

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