SLO County stays in COVID-19 red tier—but case counts indicate purple tier looms

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San Luis Obispo County remained in California’s coronavirus red tier for the seventh consecutive week on Nov. 10, but public health officials warn that the county is going in the wrong direction, with case counts soaring over the past 10 days, and a downgrade in status could follow.

Public Health Officer Penny Borenstein told the SLO County Board of Supervisors on Nov. 10 that local COVID-19 metrics are currently exceeding the requirements of the state’s red tier, which allows some businesses to operate indoors at limited capacity.

WARNING SLO County Public Health Officer Penny Borenstein warned on Nov. 10 that the county is on the precipice of moving backward on the state’s COVID-19 reopening blueprint. - FILE PHOTO BY JAYSON MELLOM
  • FILE PHOTO BY JAYSON MELLOM
  • WARNING SLO County Public Health Officer Penny Borenstein warned on Nov. 10 that the county is on the precipice of moving backward on the state’s COVID-19 reopening blueprint.
As of Nov. 10, SLO County had 500 active cases, its highest number of the pandemic, adding 52 cases that day. “At least half” of the active cases are Cal Poly students, Borenstein said, and nine residents are in the hospital.



On Nov. 10, the county also reported an outbreak of 23 cases at the Atascadero State Hospital.

“I don’t want people to panic at this point but our numbers are changing dramatically,” Borenstein said. “People are coming together in large numbers, at all manner of events, and those are the right conditions for seeing lots and lots of cases of disease.”

State data released on Nov. 10 for the week ending in Oct. 31 show that SLO County had a 7.2 adjusted case rate per 100,000 people—a rate that just exceeds the criteria for the red tier.

But because that data is delayed 10 days, Borenstein said she expects next week’s data to look even worse. In order for a county to move down tiers, it must have poor numbers for two consecutive weeks, meaning that SLO County could go down to the purple tier starting the week of Nov. 23.

California’s purple tier closes all indoor dining, gyms, fitness centers, and movie theaters, and puts more restrictions on other business sectors. It does not require schools that have already opened for in-person learning to shut down .

Borenstein emphasized that the upcoming week to 10 days will be crucial to possibly avoiding a downgrade in tiers—if the community can get the spread under control.

The state carves out a stipulation that if a county is on the brink of going backward, it can attempt to show “objective signs of improvement” to state officials and avoid the slide. If the county moves backward, it will take three weeks of improved numbers to move forward again.

“Please double down,” Borenstein said. “A lot of the parts of the community who are not taking precautions are also very strident in their messaging that we should be wide open. … Everyone do their part to allow us to have the conditions where we can be further open. That means taking this disease seriously.” ∆

—Peter Johnson


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