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Why Monterey County Is Stuck In The State's Most Restrictive COVID-19 Tier

The purple tier in the state's COVID-19 reopening system is the most restrictive. With no indoor dining, and movie theaters and places of worship operating outdoors only. That's where Monterey County is for now.

Over the last month, counties neighboring Monterey County have seen a decreased spread of the coronavirus and have been allowed to drop restrictions on many businesses. That hasn’t happened in Monterey County. KAZU News explains the extremely complicated process of reopening.

Local COVID-19 restrictions are determined by the state’s COVID-19 monitoring system, which is called the ‘Blueprint for a Safer Economy’. This updated system was introduced by California Governor Gavin Newsom at a news briefing in late August.

“We wanted to make adjustments based upon the input we received from county health officers, input we received from experts, our own experience here in the state of California,” said Newsom.  

The bluepring consists of four tiers. Let’s run through them.

Yellow is the least restrictive tier. Only a few counties in California are in that category. They are mostly located near the border with Nevada.

The next tier is Orange. Our neighbor to the north, Santa Clara County, is in that tier. Smaller amusement parks can open, restaurants can serve indoors and places of worship can host more people inside. 

The next tier is Red. Santa Cruz and San Benito counties, are in that one. Their restrictions are similar to Orange but with less capacity. 

And then there’s Purple, the most restrictive tier, with no indoor dining, and movie theaters and places of worship operating outdoors only. That’s where Monterey County is.

So how are these tiers decided?

There are three metrics the state looks at to determine which tier a county will be in. 

Back when he introduced the system, Newsom explained why these metrics matter.

“The metrics that we assert are the most significant in terms of giving us a leading indicator of how things are taking shape in a particular part of the state,” said Newsom. 

The metrics are case rate per 100,000 people; positivity rate, which is how many people have tested positive out of all that have been tested; and the equity rate, which studies the positivity rate in the most disadvantaged communities. 

Collectively, all three metrics need to make it into a certain colored tier together before a county can progress. 

But there is one work around that Monterey County has been trying to take advantage of. The state says if two out of the three metrics make it into the Orange Tier, the entire county can move into the Red Tier. 

And according to recent calculations by the county, two of their metrics (the positivity and equity rates) have done just that. 

The problem? The state is not using the same laboratory data as Monterey County. 

Dr. Edward Moreno, the county’s health officer, spoke at a Board of Supervisors meeting on November 5, about what they planned to do about this. 

“We submitted an adjudication request to the California Department of Public Health. So California Department of Public Health will consider requests for adjudication if there is a data discrepancy, which we believe there is in the metrics and that the discrepancy is significant enough to affect the tier status, which we believe it does,” said Moreno.  

Unfortunately the state didn’t agree and declined Monterey’s County’s Adjudication request earlier this week. 

So that means Monterey County stays in the most restrictive Purple Tier for now. 

Dr. Moreno said the decision was disappointing. But he’s always had the same message about the coronavirus.

“Regardless of the state's decision, we as a community still need to follow these measures to reduce the spread of COVID-19,” said Moreno. 

Measures like physical distancing, wearing face coverings, washing hands frequently and staying home if you are sick, to name a few. 

Keeping up with these practices is the only way that Monterey County moves out of the Purple Tier and into a less restrictive one. And as cases increase across the nation and locally, that becomes harder and harder.