Health

State moves San Benito County back to purple tier

County reported 64 new cases last week.

Updated Nov. 17 to include new info about OptumServe test site.

San Benito County will soon be downgraded back to the purple tier of the state’s Blueprint for a Safer Economy following a week of registering 64 positive COVID-19 test results. The status goes into effect Nov. 17 amidst a statewide increase in cases. San Benito is one of 28 counties moving back to the purple tier.

San Benito County Public Information Officer David Westrick confirmed the county’s move back to the purple tier, and said family gatherings are still the main source of spread. 

As of Nov. 16, the county has reported 1,620 people testing positive for COVID-19 since February, 88 of which are active, 1,517 have recovered and 15 have died. The county’s current positivity rate is 3.1%. Though there are two testing facilities in San Benito County— Hazel Hawkins Memorial Hospital and the Veterans Memorial Building—the latter, operated by OptumServe, is supposed to shut down at the end of this month. 

In light of the county’s new tier designation and increase in cases, Westrick said San Benito County does not know if OptumServe testing facility services will be extended. But at at Nov. 17 Board of Supervisors meeting, Health and Human Services Agency Director Tracey Belton said OptumServe will continue to offer tests at the Veterans Memorial Building until April 30.

California also updated its framework in light of the statewide increase of positive cases. Updates include:

  • The state can assign tiers any day of the week and could occur multiple times in a week rather than just Tuesdays.
  • Counties may be downgraded by more than one tier at a time.

Since the week of Oct. 12, when San Benito County was upgraded to the second, or red tier, it averaged 28.25 positive test results per week. The red tier allowed indoor operations for retail businesses including restaurants, personal care services and places of worship with modifications. 

Though the county’s positivity rate initially decreased from 2.8% to 1.9% in the state’s metrics during that same period, it has increased to 3.1% as of last week. San Benito’s case rate has almost doubled in that same timespan from 3.8% to 6.2%, according to county data. 

However, because San Benito County has a population less than 106,000, it’s considered a small county and that metric does not apply in its designation of a tier. Instead, the state looks to see if San Benito County exceeded the 42 absolute weekly cases for two consecutive weeks. There are 21 other California counties with a population of 106,000 or less. 

According to the state’s framework, San Benito County must stay in the purple tier for three weeks before being able to upgrade to the red tier again.

Several activities and businesses will face operation restrictions with the return to the purple tier:

  • Gatherings are only permitted outdoor with modifications and a maximum of three households
  • Gyms and fitness centers return to outdoor only with modifications
  • Places of worship return to outdoor only with modifications
  • Movie theaters return to outdoor only with modifications
  • Restaurants return to outdoor only with modifications
  • All retail (including critical infrastructure, except standalone grocers) can open indoors with modifications and maximum 25% capacity

Schools that have reopened for in-person instruction while the county was in the red tier can remain open while in the purple tier. If the county is in purple tier on the day a school plans to reopen for in-person instruction, the school must wait until it is eligible again, according to a recent press release from the county.

See which activities and businesses are allowed to be open in each of the four tiers. A complete list of industry guidance can be found at https://covid19.ca.gov/industry-guidance/.

Noe Magaña

Noe Magaña is a BenitoLink reporter. He also experiments with videography and photography. A San Benito High School alumnus with a bachelor's in journalism from San Jose State and a Liberal Arts Associate's Degree from Gavilan College. Noe also attended San Jose City College and was the managing editor for the City College Times, the school's newspaper. He also was a reporter and later a copy editor for San Jose State's Spartan Daily.