With San Mateo County meeting the first week of metrics required to move into the next restrictive tier in the state’s reopening framework, San Mateo County health officials expressed optimism additional restrictions may be lifted in the coming weeks.
“I don’t have a crystal ball but I’m very hopeful about [moving to the orange tier within weeks] … based on what we are observing,” said Chief of Health Louise Rogers during a virtual Board of Supervisors meeting Tuesday.
As of Tuesday, the county’s new case rate per 100,000 residents was below 3.9, the threshold for entering the next less restrictive orange tier and the only criteria the county had yet to maintain. The state reported the county has a rolling seven-day average positive test rate of 1.8% per 100,000 residents, far below the 3.9% threshold which the county has met for weeks.
The state released a new health equity metric late August which requires larger counties with more than 106,000 residents to bring positive test rates down in underserved pockets of the county. While the county failed to meet the orange tier metric between 2.2% to 5.2% when the metric was first released, the state reported the county met the health equity metric at 3.3%.
The county started in the purple, the most restrictive, tier and moved into its current red tier five weeks ago. As it moves through the tiers, more businesses are allowed to open and other restrictions are lifted. Schools can open in this stage of the red tier but need to get approval through the Office of Education and County Health. Officials aim for a five-day approval window.
To move into the orange tier, the county will have to maintain the lower metrics for another week. Rogers was reluctant to say when she thought the county would be moving from the red “substantial” risk tier to the orange tier but acknowledged county numbers have been steadily trending downwards, similar to other Bay Area counties.
Businesses permitted to reopen with modifications once in the orange, “moderate” risk tier, include outdoor areas of bars, breweries and distilleries that don’t serve food, professional outdoor sports stadiums at 20% capacity and small theme parks with outdoor attractions. Restaurants, places of worship and family entertainment centers would be allowed to expand operations to 50% capacity or 200 people, whichever is fewer.
Despite positive trends leading to reopening, Rogers noted the state and county are bracing for potential spikes into the colder holiday season. She noted the county is focusing on bringing COVID-19 infections as low as possible ahead of the potential spike by contacting those who test positive for the virus and providing those residents with housing, financial and food assistance.
Compliance task force
Ensuring the county continues to see restrictions lifted, officials have implemented a compliance task force focused on educating businesses before citing. The task force began contacting businesses accused of violating health guidelines on Monday through email and have encouraged residents to report violations by calling 211 or filing a report online.
“If someone is blatantly violating and is a chronic violator, there has to be a tipping point because at the end of the day we’re coming to a potential spike that epidemiologist and those in your field are saying … can happen,” said Supervisor David Canepa. “Its about equity. I think it’s totally unfair for some people to be following the health order while there are a couple businesses … in the county that are able to operate. I don’t think that’s really fair.”
At the same meeting, supervisors unanimously supported the contribution of up to $7 million to various programs which focus on assisting residents struggling due to the pandemic.
Supervisors approved contributing $2 million in Measure K funds to the Immigrant Relief Fund, aimed at providing financial relief to community members ineligible for federal assistance due to their immigration status. With the additional contribution, the county has granted $4 million to the fund which was seeded with $5 million from John Sobrato, the founder of the Sobrato Foundation
To date, the fund has received nearly 23,000 applications with more than 10,000 applicants qualifying for a one-time $1,000 grant. The additional contribution will provide grants to another 2,000 residents. Sobrato called for supervisors to assist in encouraging larger corporations and wealthy community members to contribute to the fund.
“Between Santa Clara County and San Mateo County we have something like 76 billionaires and millionaires and one would think that … there are a number of people that should be able to help with this outreach to these people who are being significantly impacted by this pandemic,” said Supervisor Don Horsley, referencing the Forbes Billionaires 2020 list.
Additionally, supervisors approved granting up to $2 million to the nonprofit Second Harvest to support food assistance efforts. Since the pandemic struck the region, demand for food assistance within San Mateo County has grown substantially, said Second Harvest CEO Leslie Bacho.
Supervisors also unanimously approved allocating $2.5 million in Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act funds to the Renaissance Entrepreneurship Center, an organization providing assistance to small business owners struggling due to the pandemic. With the fund, officials aim to provide $5,000 to $25,000 worth of assistance to lower-income business owners depending on need.
An additional $3.5 million in CARES Act Funds was approved for the expansion of the Public Internet Connectivity Pilot Project which aims to provide internet access to disconnected communities.
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