As early as Tuesday those getting COVID-19 shots at select “event” vaccination sites in San Joaquin County will be asked if they are willing to get tested for the coronavirus at the same time.
It is part of the county’s efforts to scramble to meet state positive test criteria in a bid to get San Joaquin County out of the most restrictive of the COVID-19 pandemic protocol tiers in a bid to start reversing economic damage that lockdowns have inflicted on businesses.
The Board of Supervisors meeting in an emergency session Friday tabled a potential $2 million incentive plan to entice people with $25 bank gift cards to submit to testing.
Supervisor Carlos Villapudua’s colleagues instead went with his suggestion that the county simply ask those getting vaccinations if they’d be willing at the same time to have a COVID-19 test taken to help the county move toward the less restrictive red tier.
In order to reach the positivity rate the state has set, San Joaquin County needs to increase the number of tests administered on a typical day by 700. There are already 2,400 tests being done on an average day that cost roughly $100 each to process.
The gift card idea is not dead. If the effort to get people when they are receiving shots to also take a test doesn’t work, the supervisors will revisit the issue of using gift cards as an incentive.
It was pointed out Friday if the board had opted to go the gift card route between the number of people currently getting tested that can be included in the metrics required by the state — those doing it as a prep for surgery and several other reasons aren’t counted — plus 700 more the county would burn through $2 million in about a month’s time.
Other solutions to pump up the testing numbers were vetted but rejected as not meeting the state criteria. An example was the county taking over school testing now underway with athletes. The tests that schools are using are a fraction of the cost the COVID test the state requires for its metrics. But switching them to the state’s test would not only increase the cost to do them but they wouldn’t be able to meet the school’s criteria of having results back within an hour.
Supervisor Chuck Winn pointed out the irony that in the past week the number of patients hospitalized countywide has dropped 31.1 percent to 44 while at the same time 29 percent of all beds in hospitals are available.
The county will work with vendors now in place to see if they can add COVID testing. The earliest that might be a reality is Tuesday. Any bump in testing needed to increase the county’s negative metrics would take up to one to two weeks to be reflected in the data.
Meanwhile the most updated information shows the county this past week is meeting several targets that they need to hold for two straight weeks in order to go down to the red tier.
San Joaquin is one of the eight counties among 57 still in the widespread or purple tier. All except for Inyo County are in the Central Valley. Every county touching San Joaquin — Sacramento, Stanislaus, Alameda, Contra Costa, Calaveras, and Tuolumne are all in the red tier.
The differences between the purple and red tiers are significant.
*Counties in purple can only allow outside dining at restaurants while red counties have limited indoor dining.
*Purple prevents gyms from being opened for indoor use but allows outdoor activities. Red allows gyms to operate indoors.
*Retail store capacity for purple is at 25 percent. It is at 50 percent for red.
*Indoor gatherings are not allowed in purple but they are in red with limitations.
*Indoor movie theaters are shuttered in purple but are allowed to reopen with restrictions in red.
*Resorts such as Great Wolf are not allowed to open in purple but they can with red.
Those are just some of the examples that also include allowing more mourners at indoor funerals in the red. Capacity limitations ease as you go down the four colored tier in most cases while restrictions on what is allowed as well as the required COVID protocols are fairly consistent.
Spot checks during the past week in Tracy, Ripon, and Manteca noted a number of restaurants are already operating as if the county is in the red tier by allowing indoor dining.
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