In-Depth: When could San Diego County reach the Orange tier?

County inches closer to fewer restrictions
Orange tier
Posted at 6:50 PM, Mar 24, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-18 21:41:23-04

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) -- It’s been one week since restaurants, gyms and other businesses in San Diego County got approval to open indoors, and even looser restrictions are visible on the horizon.

“We continue to see positive direction on pretty much all fronts surrounding COVID-19,” county Supervisor Nathan Fletcher said Wednesday.

San Diego is meeting two of the three key metrics to advance to the Orange tier from the more restrictive red tier. Once in Orange, a range of indoor family entertainment businesses could reopen for the first time, including bowling alleys, escape rooms, laser tag, bounce centers and ball pits.

A long list of other businesses could expand their indoor services. Restaurants could fill dining rooms to 50 percent of their capacity, instead of 25 percent. Retail businesses could operate at 100 percent capacity, up from 50 percent.

Six more counties moved into the Orange tier this week, bringing the total to nine. But what will it take for San Diego to join them? And how soon could that happen?

Under state guidelines, the earliest San Diego County could enter the Orange tier and loosen restrictions is Wednesday, April 7. That’s because the state requires counties to spend a minimum of three weeks in a tier before advancing.

While noting that April 7 is “possible,” Supervisor Fletcher added he “wouldn’t want to say at this point is it probable.”

Standing in the way: variants. Health officials announced Wednesday that two cases of the Brazil variant were detected in San Diego County for the first time. Like the version first sequenced in South Africa, early research suggests vaccines are less effective against the Brazil variant. Neither person was vaccinated, said deputy Public Health Officer Dr. Eric McDonald.

Three paths to Orange

There are three paths for San Diego County to reach the Orange tier. All of them involve reaching certain thresholds and maintaining the levels for two consecutive weeks.

The first path is to improve the county’s adjusted case rate. San Diego needs to lower its case rate from 5.5 daily new cases per 100,000 residents to 3.9 daily cases or fewer and maintain it. That’s a tall order.

“It is probably less likely we would get under 4 in the immediate future,” Fletcher said.

Another route involves the state’s health equity metric. San Diego would need to see significantly lower positive test rates in the poorest and most at-risk neighborhoods. An exceptionally good score in this metric could move the county into Orange even if the case rate stays relatively flat.

However, Fletcher said county officials believe the most likely path involves vaccinations.

Once providers administer 4 million vaccines statewide in the neediest neighborhoods measured by the Healthy Places Index, the math changes.

To reach the Orange tier, the county would only need an adjusted case rate of 5.9 cases or less per 100,000 residents for two consecutive weeks. San Diego already clears that bar with a rate of 5.5 cases per 100,000.

That means advancing to Orange comes down to rolling up enough sleeves in high-risk neighborhoods. So far, the state has administered 2.9 million of the required 4 million doses.

So when will we reach 4 million? “It’s impossible to predict but advancing at a decent clip,” Fletcher said.

The state will announce new data March 30 that will reveal if San Diego is still on track to reach the Orange tier on April 7.