Turning Sacramento orange

Editor’s note: County isn’t going to make its goal of reopening more businesses by Halloween, and top officials may have violated COVID-19 safety rules

Sacramento County isn’t going to make its goal of reopening more businesses by the end of October, but it’s getting close if it can continue reducing new COVID-19 cases.

In Tuesday’s update from the state Department of Public Health, the county was at 4.4 new cases per day per 100,000 people and a 2.5% test positivity rate countywide, including a 3.5% positive rate in disadvantaged census tracts.

Those numbers keep the county in the red tier. To move into the orange tier—which allows more kinds of businesses to open and eases capacity limits—it needs to average fewer than 4 new cases a day and a test positivity rate below 5%. Alternatively, it could lower its test positivity rates overall and in disadvantaged census tracts under 2%.

“We’re really hopeful we will meet the criteria next week,” Olivia Kasirye, the county’s public health officer, told county supervisors Tuesday. “We’re hoping next week we’ll have some good news.”

A county must hit the numbers for two weeks in a row, which means the soonest Sacramento County could move to the orange tier is now Nov. 3.

UPDATE: Public Health reported 229 new cases Monday, 146 on Tuesday and 137 on Wednesday, with rates that are higher than the below 4 required.

To lower the numbers, public health officials are urging residents and businesses to keep up on COVID-19 precautions.

So it doesn’t help that messaging that it appears top county officials, themselves, may have violated safety rules. In a meeting Oct. 15 called by county CEO Nav Gill, more than 40 officials gathered in a conference room, several did not wear masks and afterwards, one official tested positive, The Sacramento Bee reported.

“There was appropriate social distancing and a majority of meeting participants came into the meeting wearing face coverings. Some took them off once they were seated and the meeting was in progress. All participants were seated at least six feet apart from each other. The County Executive was at the front of the room and at least ten feet away from other meeting attendees,” the county said later in a statement.

“On Thursday evening, one of the participants received a positive coronavirus test and Health Services was immediately notified. All meeting participants were contacted and those seated near that individual have quarantined consistent with State and CDC guidelines.”

None of the five county supervisors attended Tuesday’s meeting in person. Board Chairman Phil Serna said the completely remote meeting was out of “an abundance of caution” due to the potential exposure.

Serna said he was frustrated and disappointed with what happened, given that county government is the second largest employer and that it should be setting an example. “This cannot happen again,” he said.

Gill did not publicly apologize. At Serna’s urging, Gill said he will send a countywide email reminding employees of safety rules of wearing masks, social distancing and holding remote meetings whenever possible.

Also, county supervisors Susan Peters and Sue Frost asked public health officials about restricting public gatherings around Christmas displays, saying they’re already receiving complaints from constituents. Kasirye and Health Services Director Peter Beilenson said they are still working on guidance for safe celebrations.

Sacramento County Public Health Officer Olivia Kasirye

Kasirye told supervisors that about 60% of total COVID-19 cases so far are in the 18-49 age group, which she said is not surprising because they are more mobile and likely to be working.

But of the 1,953 county residents who have been hospitalized, about 48% are 65 and older, many in assisted living facilities, and many have chronic health problems. And 12% of those 65 and older who contract COVID-19 have died, compared to a 2% overall fatality rate, Kasirye said.

Tuesday, Public Health reported 474 deaths and 24,811 cases, including 229 new cases on Monday, a rate of 14.8.

Beilenson said that of the $65 million in local, state and federal money allocated for COVID-19 programs, $45.8 million has been spent or contracted.

More money will be needed for coronavirus vaccinations next year, Beilenson said during the regular update, which supervisors demanded the in August after a wave of criticism aimed at Gill in particular for not spending federal COVID-19 relief money on combating the virus.

Later in August, supervisors approved $45 million more for public health efforts. In recent weeks, the county has been improving its coronavirus numbers.

After a month in the most restrictive purple tier, it moved Sept. 29 to the red tier, allowing more businesses to resume limited indoor operations. 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 improved to 5.3 new cases a day and a 3.4% positivity rate.

It progressed again as of Oct. 13, with 5.1 new cases per day and a 2.8% positivity rate and a 4.0% test positivity rate in disadvantaged census tracts. By not going backwards, the county was able to let the 13 school districts with 240,000 students move toward teaching in classrooms. Sacramento County schools Supt. Dave Gordon told supervisors that the problem is less reopening schools than keeping them open.

Also with fewer restrictions, the Sacramento Public Library announced Monday that it plans to reopen seven branches with limited capacity on Nov. 5. Patrons will be able to browse the shelves and use computers for as long as one hour at Belle Cooledge, Elk Grove, Isleton, Martin Luther King, Rancho Cordova, Rio Linda and Southgate.

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