Riverside County is slated to remain in the red tier this week, while San Bernardino County has the potential to join its neighbor in that phase of reopening.

The red tier allows movie theaters, museums, zoos, aquariums, churches, fitness centers and indoor dining restaurants to open at partial capacity. 

In determining whether a county can move to the next phase, the state looks at two metrics: positivity rate and case rate.

San Bernardino County remained in the purple tier last week, which is the lowest level of the state’s reopening framework and calls for stricter rules. However, its positivity rate hit 5.7% last week and the county found six coronavirus-positive patients per 100,000 residents, but the state adjusted that figure up to 6.7. Under its new system, the state health department adjusts counties’ case rates based on whether they’re conducting more than or fewer than the state’s average number of tests.

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Those metrics fall within the red tier, which means San Bernardino County could progress on Tuesday if its numbers remained stable over the past seven days.

Riverside County must stay in the red tier for at least three weeks before moving to the orange tier, which allows businesses to expand their occupancy. 

Riverside County’s positivity rate hit 5.8% last week and the county saw 5.8 cases per 100,000 residents last week, though the state adjusted that figure up to 6.7. 

To move to the orange tier, Riverside County would need to document fewer than four new COVID-19 cases per 100,000 residents on a rolling seven-day average, and report a positivity testing rate between 2% to 4.9% for two full weeks.

Newsom warns of increased spread in SoCal

Gov. Gavin Newsom on Monday said the state’s positivity rate for coronavirus cases has dropped to 2.8% over a two-week average, but he offered a word of caution for counties in Southern California, where some data around the spread of the virus shows increased transmission.

Newsom said the “R-effective” rate, or the rate that measures how fast the virus is spreading, has been going up in Southern California based on two groupings of counties in the region. The rate measures the average of how many people are likely to get sick from one infected person, with a rate of one or higher indicating a faster spread.

“While it’s true we have seen a three-fold decrease in the total number of cases since our peak mid-July, we are seeing early signs that those decreases are beginning to slow down,” he said.

Los Angeles, Santa Barbara, Ventura, San Luis Obisbo and Kern counties collectively have an “R-effective” rate of 1.02. Riverside, San Bernardino, Orange, San Diego and Imperial counties collectively have an “R-effective” rate of 0.97.

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The rate also snuck up to 0.95 in the Bay Area, Newsom said. He called the recent analysis of data “some concerns and points of optimism, all mixed into one.” 

Statewide, there have been 805,263 positive cases of coronavirus and 15,608 virus-related deaths.

Newsom on Monday urged continued vigilance in the form of wearing masks, physical distancing, frequent hand-washing and minimizing mixing with people from other households. Following such protocols, he said, will allow businesses and schools to reopen faster. 

California currently has 25 counties in the purple tier. There are 19 counties in the red tier, 11 in the orange tier and three in the yellow tier, indicating the highest level of allowable business activity.

Newsom said California Secretary of Health and Human Services Dr. Mark Ghaly is expected to announce more counties progressing, including some moving into the yellow tier, on Tuesday for his weekly update.

Newsom gets flu shot to urge vaccination

Newsom’s warnings echoed previously raised concerns from Ghaly, who said last week that a rise in cases appears to be attributable to gathering and activities around the Labor Day holiday.

Other factors could include recent reopening of businesses and massive wildfires that forced evacuations and millions to change their routines because of unhealthy air. 

One short-term forecast sees an 89% increase in COVID-19-related hospitalizations from the current 2,578 — the lowest figure since early April — to just under 5,000 by Oct. 25, Ghaly said.

The continued monitoring of COVID-19 cases comes as the state tries to ward off a “twindemic” with the upcoming flu season. Newsom urged people to get a flu shot to protect themselves and others. 

The governor briefly stepped away from the lectern during the press conference Monday to get his own flu shot, as an opportunity to demonstrate the “power and potency” of the vaccine. He rolled up his Cal Fire t-shirt sleeve and joked about his biceps as he got the shot from a masked and gloved health care professional.

People wearing masks and physical distancing also helps prevent transmission of the flu, not just coronavirus, Newsom said. 

Desert Sun reporter Nicole Hayden covers health in the Coachella Valley. She can be reached at [email protected] or (760) 778-4623. Follow her on Twitter @Nicole_A_Hayden. Melissa Daniels covers economic development, hospitality and local business. She can be reached at (760)-567-8458, [email protected], or on Twitter @melissamdaniels.

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