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Ventura County is on track to move backward to the state’s most restrictive “purple” tier as early as next week, county officials said on Tuesday. If that projection bears out, it would mean that restaurants, gyms, churches and other facilities will no longer be allowed to open indoors and schools will have to postpone reopening plans.
At the Tuesday Ventura County Board of Supervisors meeting, supervisors were notified that the county is in the first week of a two-week path back to the purple, or “widespread” tier.
“Frankly, it’s a punch in the gut,” said County Executive Officer Mike Powers.
Reverting to the state’s most restrictive guidelines is disappointing news for a county that once set its sights on moving forward to the less restrictive “orange” tier. But increased coronavirus cases and a moving benchmark for coronavirus testing means Ventura County is heading back to the restrictions it left behind early October.
Ventura County Public Health Director Rigoberto Vargas said however that moving backward isn’t necessarily inevitable. He urged residents against attending events and parties.
“If you’re planning on these large gatherings, cancel them. Cancel them now,” Vargas said. “This week’s actions do matter.”
Vargas said the county will have a discussion with Sacramento as part of an adjudication process that could delay entry into the purple tier by a week to Nov. 24. He noted that even with the delay it’s a huge impact on school districts that are eyeing reopening at the end of the month.
While schools that have already opened may remain open for in-person instruction, schools planning to reopen after the date that the county enters purple tier will not likely be able to.
“That would be a devastating impact on schools,” Vargas said.
Ventura Unified, Rio, Somis Union and Mesa Union school districts were scheduled to reopen or begin a phased reopening on Nov. 30.
COVID-19 on the rise in Ventura County
Ventura County’s adjusted coronavirus case rate is 7.2 per 100,000, up from 5.3 a week prior, according to data released by the state Tuesday. The adjusted rate factors in testing volume as compared to the state median. The county’s unadjusted case rate 7.7 per 100,000 is up from 5.9 a week prior.
An adjusted case rate of more than 7 per 100,000 puts a county in the purple tier. For Ventura County, if next week’s case rate is once again above 7 per 100,000, it could go into the purple tier unless circumstances change.
There are other metrics used to determine a county’s ranking and Ventura County is doing well on those. The county’s positivity rate is at 3% and it’s health equity measurement is at 4.8%. Both of these scores would put the county in the orange tier.
A high case rate regardless of the other scores, however, will determine the county’s placement in the four-tiered system. The color codes from the least to the most restrictive are: yellow, orange, red and purple.
One reason why the county’s adjusted case rate reached the purple tier is because other counties ramped up coronavirus testing. However, it’s not the only reason, Vargas pointed out.
This adjusted rate is dependent on testing volumes in other counties, which can fluctuate. Under a previous benchmark, the county’s adjusted case rate would not have reached the purple category. In other words, as other counties conduct more testing and raises the median, Ventura County must also increase its testing to keep up.
California coronavirus:Ventura County’s smallest school districts face issues reopening
Currently, Ventura County is testing an average of 301 people per 100,000. The state median is 272 people per 100,000.
“We need to wage a testing campaign,” Powers said. “We need everyone to get tested. We have plenty of capacity.”
Powers said the campaign will start with big employers like the county of Ventura. He pointed out that testing is now much easier and less uncomfortable than it used to be.
Supervisor Kelly Long said she routinely gets tested with her family.
“It makes your eyes water a little because it tickles,” she said.
Long pointed out that testing is free and results come in one or two days. Long was one of three supervisors who attended the meeting in person while two supervisors attended through Zoom.
Although Veterans Day is a holiday for some, all testing sites in the county are open on Wednesday. You don’t have to show symptoms and you don’t have to live in the county to get tested in Ventura County. To find out more, visit www.venturacountyrecovers.org.
But testing volume is not the only factor in the county’s downward trajectory. Cases are simply going up and gatherings of all sizes are to blame, Vargas said.
“The virus is well and present and circulating in Ventura County,” Vargas said. “We’re not doing enough social distancing. We’re not doing enough hand hygiene. We’re not doing enough mask wearing, and we can do more with testing as well.”
Vargas pointed to some egregious examples of gatherings, including a wedding reception with hundreds of people, which is not permitted. But he said small gatherings, such as taking breaks with coworkers without wearing masks is also causing case numbers to increase.
“When gatherings are occurring in these manners, that’s letting our guard down,” Vargas said. “We’re really urging Ventura County residents to not let your guard down. We’re on a verge of a second wave.”
If the county enters the purple tier in the coming weeks, it wouldn’t be alone. This week, San Diego, Sacramento and Stanislaus counties moved back to purple. Meanwhile, no
counties in the state moved to a less restrictive tier, an indication that the negative trend is statewide.
Dr. Mark Ghaly, secretary for the California Health and Human Services Agency, said on Tuesday that half of California counties are on track to move to a more restrictive tier next week.
Ghaly said he understands that there’s a lot of “COVID fatigue and COVID resentment,” but everyone must do more to curb this pandemic.
“The virus is not over just because we’re tired of it,” he said.
Wendy Leung is a staff writer for the Ventura County Star. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or 805-437-0339. You can also find her on Twitter @Leung__Wendy.