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SJ County may spend $2 million on incentives to get people to take COVID tests in bid to get negative numbers up to expedite reopening businesses
covid test
Healthcare workers at Golden Valley Health Center’s Ceres office test patients for coronavirus in the parking lot. San Joaquin County may use incentives to encourage more people to get tests.

Blocking San Joaquin County’s ability to reopening the economy in its seven cities and unincorporated areas isn’t the number of people being vaccinated as much as it is the numbers of those who haven’t been tested.

The state mandate that negative test numbers be higher before SJ County can escape the most restrictive tier of purple is prompting the Board of Supervisors to meet in an emergency session today at 3 p.m. to consider spending $2 million on initiatives to encourage people to get free COVID-19 tests.

Board Chair Tom Patti on Thursday indicated county staff was still putting the final touches on what options the supervisors will be presented with.

In two California counties— Kern and Sonoma — that have used incentives to get people to take the free COVID test, it took the form of $25 gift cards. In both cases the incentives were used last fall. They were narrowly directed to census tracts where the makeup of the populace that made them highly vulnerable to the virus.

While the agenda item for today’s meeting offers no details, it is likely to be a countywide initiative based on the money and the county’s population. Kern County with a population of 913,000 used $360,000 last fall to target specific census tracts.

San Joaquin County’s proposal to spend $2 million is almost six times what Kern County did. The population of San Joaquin County is 767,000 or 146,000 less than Kern County.

The county already has started an aggressive mobile vaccination effort to try and get those included in the state’s “health equity quartile positivity rate” shots. In English, that means the positivity rate for COVID-19 in the lowest 25 percent census tracts in the most disadvantaged neighborhoods needs to drop.

That, along with the lack of more negative numbers from test results is keeping San Joaquin County in the most restrictive tier.

Similar incentives have been used by colleges — gift cards or free college team items — to encourage students to take COVID tests. Some state agencies such as Tulare County have had incentives that give employees who took four COVID tests during a set period of time one personal holiday for their efforts.

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.

Patti said he has advocated for a quick county response to implement programs aimed at meeting the state mandates so that San Joaquin County can start opening the local economies sooner than later.

The emergency meeting today eliminated a two-week wait for the board’s next meeting. In order for an incentive program to be implemented it will require a four-fifths vote to pass.

Those who have shots

need to get tested

Patti said under state rules for positivity rates that go back to last fall, those county residents that have been fully vaccinated do not count toward San Joaquin County’s negative test numbers.  That means those among the 82,650 people who have been fully vaccinated and the 83,407 that have been partially vaccinated as of Wednesday who have not taken a COVID test will not count toward the county meeting the state matrix to reopen.

“Testing has dropped off significantly as people started getting vaccinations,” Patti said.

While using the fall mandate seems counterintuitive to Patti especially when it comes to those already vaccinated, the county has to play with the hand it has been dealt by the state.

“I asked staff to have options ready and a “game plan” lined up so (if) the money is authorized we can hit the ground running sooner than later,” Patti said.

Throughout the pandemic Patti has been pushing hard to allow reopening that make sense while taking steps to stop the spread of COVID-19.  His first effort was a successful push to reopen golf courses and parks.

The county is taking other steps as well to jumpstart the local economies ravaged by the pandemic lockdowns.


Relief Across Downtown

(RAD) Gift Card Program

The San Joaquin County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday approved the transfer of $1 million from the contingency provision budget and authorized agreements with the Downtown Modesto Partnership to implement the Relief Across Downtown (RAD) Gift Card Program. 
This program will assist San Joaquin County small businesses to recover faster from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic by encouraging spending at local businesses. The RAD gift card, previously established and managed by the City of Modesto and Stanislaus County, is a free, downloadable digital gift card which easy to use. The buyer fills it with funds up to $100 maximum. The RAD program matches whatever money was put on it (up to $100), and the participant can spend those funds at participating local small businesses within the County, such as restaurants, retailers, and personal care service providers, using its built-in QR code.

Implementing a RAD Card program would require an agreement with the Downtown Modesto Partnership, the owner of the RAD Card, to provide support. After reviewing certain legal and administrative details, the RAD program could be implemented in the next two weeks and the County would work with the local Chambers of Commerce to market the program.

 The county’s, managed by the county’s Office of Emergency Services (OES), is a hub for all the COVID information the public needs to locate scheduled community vaccination events. 


To contact Dennis Wyatt, email