Tulare County has progressed in California’s COVID-19 reopening blueprint, leaving the most-restrictive purple tier on Tuesday and entering the red tier.
Restaurants, movie theaters and gyms are all allowed to reopen for indoor operations under the red tier, and retail stores can expand to 50 percent capacity.
“The declining number of cases is welcome news for Tulare County, with local businesses now able to safely expand operations,” said Tulare County Public Health Officer Dr. Karen Haught in a statement.
“However, it is still critical and extremely important for everyone to continue to practice health and safety measures. We all must continue to protect ourselves and others from COVID-19 infections – wear a mask, practice physical distancing, limit gatherings with others outside of the household, and get vaccinated when the vaccine is available to you.”
The rest of the Central Valley, however, has been left behind in the purple tier even as the vast majority of the state no longer faces the most stringent restrictions and regulations.
Fresno, Kern, Kings, Madera, Merced, San Joaquin and Stanislaus Counties all posted COVID-19 metrics that were not low enough to make the jump into the red tier in time for Tuesday’s tier assignment from the state.
Only four other counties in the state remain in purple (Inyo, Nevada, Yuba and Glenn Counties) while 42 counties (87.7 percent of the population) are in the red tier. Four counties are in the orange tier and one (Alpine County) is in the least-restrictive yellow tier.
Why are Central Valley Counties lagging behind the rest of the state?
Fresno County Interim Health Officer Dr. Rais Vohra did not have a concrete answer for that during Tuesday’s media briefing. His best guess is that the region – which faces a high poverty rate – has a large number of multigenerational homes, giving the virus ample opportunity to spread in close quarters.
“I really don’t have any strong rationale for why that would be, other than to say we just have a lot of different needs here in our counties in the Central Valley… Certainly the Central Valley has a lot more essential workers,” Vohra said.
“We have a lot more underserved populations, impoverished populations, who may be living in multigenerational households. We know that this is a disease that does prey on crowding and households that just can’t separate or work from home.”
While Fresno County’s 5.1 percent positivity rate falls in the red tier, the county needs to push its case rate per 100,000 people below 10, not far off from the 11.9 case rate posted Tuesday.
“The bottom line is we’ve just got to get our community transmission as low as possible under this blueprint formula, and that requires all of us to make that extra effort,” Vohra said. “Go get tested, stay home if you’re sick and continue to wear the masks and do the social distancing. I know everyone has been doing that for such a long time. I know that we’re all exhausted and we’re sick of hearing those messages and doing it. It won’t be forever, and hopefully it’ll just be a short time longer.
“We are vaccinating at a very fast clip, so at some point we are going to turn the tide on this pandemic. At some point we are going to conquer COVID as we’ve been trying to do for the last year. It just requires a little bit more effort on everyone’s part, and hopefully this plateau won’t demoralize us so much that we just give up, because I know everyone’s worked so hard to make sure that our numbers go down. And it is showing.”