After meeting state coronavirus metrics for two weeks straight, Kern County is seeing red.
The county has moved from the most restrictive purple tier on the state's four-tiered system into the red tier. The classification allows restaurants to begin serving customers indoors, and it means movie theaters, churches, personal care services and gyms can now reopen with COVID-19 prevention measures.
Also, schools can reopen in two weeks if the county remains in the red tier.
“Today marks quite a significant accomplishment and it highlights the sacrifices that we all have been making and our community has been making," Public Health Services Director Matt Constantine said during a Board of Supervisors meeting on Tuesday.
Although greater public activity is now allowed, churches, businesses and schools will need to comply with state coronavirus guidelines. Churches, restaurants and movie theaters must limit their capacity to 25 percent, or 100 people, while gyms are only allowed to open at 10 percent capacity.
The county reached the red tier by recording COVID-19 metrics within the bounds identified by the state.
The county's new average daily case rate is 5.7 cases per 100,000 residents (which was increased to 6.3 because the county's rate of overall tests fell below the state average). The state requires red tier counties to be below 7 new cases per 100,000 residents.
Kern's positivity rate is 5.3 percent when it needs to be below 8 percent.
The health equity metric, which measures the positivity rate in the bottom quartile of the county's census tracts, is 6.7 percent when it needs to be below 8 percent.
Kern County spent six weeks in the purple tier before advancing. Some locals bristled, and businesses struggled under the restrictions required by the most severe limitations in the state. With the county moving into the red tier, Public Health Services is taking the news as a sign that the measures taken by local residents and businesses worked, and the community should remain cautious.
“This is not the time that we stop these actions,” Constantine said. “We are not done. This is not our goal. We’re here to say that we’re moving into red, but up next is the orange tier and after that is the yellow tier. We are on a path and we don’t want to fall back.”
To move into the yellow tier, Kern’s case rate will need to be less than 4 per 100,000 and the positivity rate will need to be less than 5 percent for two weeks.
The county’s COVID-19 metrics, however, increased slightly when compared to last week’s update, which could bode poorly for the future. If the county experiences two weeks with coronavirus metrics above what is allowed in the red tier, it could backslide into the steeper restrictions of the purple tier.
“Everything that we do here in the county depends on our economy and the strength of our economy,” Supervisor Zack Scrivner said during the meeting. The community's efforts have borne fruit, Scrivner said, "but at the same time we are still very close to moving back into the purple.”
In another positive turn for the county, Public Health Services announced on Tuesday that hospitalizations related to COVID-19 were at one of the lowest points they had ever been during the pandemic.
The department said as of Sunday, local hospitals were treating 50 coronavirus patients with 13 being treated in intensive care units. On Sunday, there were 981 beds available throughout the county, along with 55 in ICUs.
“That’s the best I can remember since March,” Scrivner said. “So that’s excellent news.”