Changes in state Covid counting puts Marin's reopening on hold

09/09/2020

The stops and starts of Covid-19 restrictions continue. After Marin announced that restaurants, places of worship and personal care services could open indoors with reduced capacity on Tuesday, the state ordered the county to delay reopening the evening before it was scheduled. The 11th-hour reversal is a result of changing counting methods by the California Department of Public Health, which recently launched a new, tiered system for determining a county’s reopening eligibility. Currently, Marin is in the purple tier, meaning the virus is widespread, but on the cusp of moving into the red tier, meaning the virus is substantial. Before Marin could move down, the state adjusted its data collection process to count starting on Mondays rather than Sundays. The change meant that an outbreak at a skilled nursing facility in Novato was counted, resulting in a bump in Marin's weekly case rates. Because Marin’s smaller population makes it vulnerable to slight changes in the measurement process and small outbreaks, the county has requested that state officials review its status; a determination is anticipated by the end of the week. “This is the growing pains of the first days of a new framework,” said Dr. Matt Willis, Marin’s public health officer. “Ultimately, I think this is going to settle into a better and more sustainable approach.” The state’s involvement in reopening decisions has evolved over time. For the first couple of months, local public health officers were left on their own to order closures, and Bay Area officers worked together to issue the first shutdown in the country. Counties were then required to certify that they met certain reopening criteria through a written attestation process before reopening certain sectors. That process was replaced by the state monitoring list, which placed restrictions on counties with high case rates. The tiered system is the first time the state has used a non-binary approach, and it looks at a county’s daily cases and positivity rates. Marin is doing relatively well with its positivity rates, with 4.4 percent of tests showing a patient has Covid-19, down from over 10 percent a month ago. But cases, which must be fewer than 19 per day for the county’s population, are keeping Marin in the substantial tier. The county saw over 1,000 cases in August, fewer than June and July but still too many for the state’s standards. Cases have disproportionately impacted Latinos, who represent 16 percent of residents and 70 percent of cases. Half of hospitalizations are of Latino patients, though older white residents are dying more frequently from Covid-19, especially those at nursing homes. Sixty-three of the 73 deaths in Marin were suffered by residents of long-term care facilities. Three people under the age of 65 have died.