State adds new metric for counties to move into lower coronavirus restrictions

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- Coronavirus trends allowed Fresno County to move into a less restrictive tier last week, but the state has added a new hurdle for moving forward, so counties will have to pay special attention to poor neighborhoods.

Churches reopened indoors at limited capacity Sunday in Fresno County after coronavirus metrics indicated a drop in cases to the "substantial" level instead of "widespread."

The move from the state's purple tier to red Tuesday cleared the way for some indoor activity at restaurants, movie theaters, gyms and other businesses.

RELATED: More businesses reopen as Fresno County relaxes COVID-19 restrictions

The county had to meet two metrics to make the move, based on the number of new cases getting under seven cases per day per 100,000 residents, and the percentage of positive tests getting under 8%.

The state adds a third metric this week.

"This is another metric that is dedicated to making sure that the most vulnerable members of our population get the resources that they need," said Dr. Rais Vohra, Fresno County's health officer.

The state's so-called "equity metric" requires counties to reduce the positivity rate for the entire county, but also for the poorest 25% of the county.

RELATED: Restaurants, gyms, movie theaters open with modifications now that Fresno County is in 'red tier'

The idea is to make sure zip codes with people working farm labor or blue-collar jobs -- like Fresno's 93701 -- don't get left behind. Those low income, essential workers are considered among the most vulnerable.

"We've been talking about, you know, 'We're all in this together' for a long time now and I think we're finally moving towards moving forward together rather than on the backs of the lowest income folks," said Phoebe Seaton, co-director of the Leadership Counsel for Justice and Accountability.
"We will need to really focus on making sure that as we progress from red into orange, we will have to meet the orange metrics for the whole county and then our lowest quartile census tracts will also need to meet the orange metrics in terms of case positivity rate," Dr. Vohra said.

Fresno County can't move forward for at least three weeks, but would've qualified for the orange tier on positivity rate last week.

But the county's health officer is also keeping an eye on a metric the state doesn't use for changing tiers: the hospitalization rate.

"Certainly we're watching that every single day and if this uptick continues then certainly the hospitals will be messaging about that as well," Dr. Vohra said.

The number of coronavirus patients in Fresno County hospitals Sunday was the highest it hass been since September 17 with 102 confirmed COVID-19 patients and 16 suspected COVID-19 patients.
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