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Fresno County on track to move to red tier, but are cases trending in wrong direction?

Fresno Bee logoFresno Bee 3/29/2021 Robert Kuwada, The Fresno Bee

Mar. 28—Fresno County could be days away from reopening more restaurants and businesses with a move to the red tier in the state's Blueprint for a Safer Economy, but the latest data from the California Department of Public Health and an increase in variant cases raises questions which way the county is headed.

The CDPH reported 170 newly confirmed COVID-19 cases in the county Sunday, which was the fourth-most in the state behind in most cases much more populated counties. It also is the most cases reported on a single day in the county in nearly three weeks, and the third day in a row there have been more than 125 confirmed cases after four days in a row that there were fewer than 100.

The number of newly reported cases in Fresno County trailed only Los Angeles (618), San Diego (226) and Sacramento (207). Fresno County also had more new cases than San Bernardino (167), Santa Clara (165) and Orange (165), counties with populations two and three times larger.

Public health officials said on Friday that four cases of the California variant had been detected in the county, and last week three cases of a variant first identified last fall in the United Kingdom were found.

"All of these are variants of concern because they're more contagious and possibly more virulent, meaning they have a higher chance of landing somebody in the hospital with complications," Dr. Rais Vohra, interim health officer with the Fresno County Department of Public Health, said last week. "If people aren't careful over spring break and through all of their activities, then these variants are going to play a large part in the last chapter of this pandemic and will probably prolong all of the crisis that we're dealing with."

Vohra also said the seven cases of the variants are likely a vast underestimation of the actual prevalence within Fresno County, given a backlog of test samples submitted for genomic analysis.

The new coronavirus cases are the most in the county since there were 183 reported on March 8. Fresno County's number of cases since the start of the pandemic is 98,901, according to the CDPH.

Fresno County for the past six weeks had a test positivity rate within the limit for a move to the red tier from purple, the most restrictive in the state's color-coded blueprint. It also has qualified for a move for the past four weeks with the healthy equity metric, a measure of the test positivity rate in the most disproportionately impacted communities.

It last week met the standard for the number of new cases per day per 100,000 for the first time.

To move to a less restrictive tier, a county must meet all three metrics for consecutive weeks. The next tier adjustments and assignments will be made Tuesday and, in the Central San Joaquin Valley, Kings and Madera counties also could move into the red tier this week with Fresno County.

Tulare County already has moved to the red tier and Mariposa County is in the orange tier. Merced County has not yet met the number of new cases per day per 100,000 metric — it was 12.9 last week, down from 13.9 the previous week, but still well above the 10 required to make a move.

In California, only eight of 58 counties remain in the purple tier (widespread risk), 39 are in the red tier (substantial risk), nine are in the orange tier (moderate) and two are in the yellow tier (minimal risk).

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