by Kimberly Rivers

County adjusts to “new state blueprint”

At the Sept. 1 meeting of the Ventura County Board of Supervisors, public health officials provided a summary of the state’s new tiered pandemic response system, reporting on where the county stands and how and when it will be able to move to a lower, or less restrictive, tier, allowing more local businesses to open. 

California’s tiered plan to opening and restricting counties based on positive test rate and new case rate.

It is “a new approach, a new state blueprint for how to reduce COVID in our county,” said Dr. Robert Levin, health officer with Ventura County Public Health. There are four tiers — purple, red, orange and yellow. Ventura County, along with over 80 percent of California, is in the highest purple tier with “widespread” transmission occurring for just under 11,000 cases of the virus in the county, and about 150,000 tests conducted. 

Levin said that with the current tier, there are “no significant changes in what [businesses are allowed] to open.” But the new rules do allow indoor malls to open now at 25 percent capacity along with beauty parlors and barber shops, which all were allowed to open indoor operations on Monday, Aug. 31. 

The tiered system released last week by Gov. Newsom focuses on two numbers: positivity test rate and case rate. Levin reported that while Ventura County is in the highest, most restrictive purple tier, the county is “in good shape” with downward trends. 

For the new case rate, the current state average is 10.9 cases per 100,000 people. Ventura County is at 9.1 cases, still above the state’s target of 7 cases per 100,000 people.

For the percent of tests that come back positive, or positivity rate, “Ours is very good, 6.2 percent,” said Rigoberto Vargas, director of Ventura County Public Health. The state target is 8 percent to drop to the next tier. 

Statewide average as of Sept. 2, 2020.

“Also, once you meet the criteria to move down . . . there is a 21-day mandatory wait time” before the county can loosen restrictions, noted Levin. The county has to “get down and stay below that rate for 21 days.” A county can only move one tier at a time, and changes are announced weekly each Tuesday by the state. 

Vargas pointed to a good testing volume and the positivity testing rate as marks in Ventura County’s favor to request some leeway. But he stressed that those numbers have to hold or continue to go down during the 21-day waiting period. Levin and Vargas emphasized the importance of the public continuing to physically distance, wear face coverings and wash hands. Levin also reminded the public that they should not be attending large gatherings. 

The fact that the county has only had to issue three violations also bodes well for the county moving to a less restrictive tier. Levin said the low number of violations issued to businesses demonstrates a high “compliance rate.” 

Beaches to stay open over Labor Day

With temperatures forecasted to rise back into the triple digits at inland locales over the weekend, Levin reported on Sept. 1 that beaches are slated to remain open for the Labor Day weekend. The county will reassess this plan if neighboring Santa Barbara and Los Angeles counties move to close their beaches. 

“Plan to not make plans” with others, said Levin, who asked the public to not gather in large groups over the holiday weekend to help the county be able to fully reopen. 

Waivers accepted, small group in-person instruction allowed 

Ventura County is now accepting applications from schools and districts for waivers to allow in-person instruction up through sixth grade. The county has passed a handful of waivers on to the state for final approval. So far all waivers submitted in the county have been from private schools including Oak Grove school in Ojai and Conejo Adventist Elementary school in Newbury Park. 

According to Levin, if the county can move down out of the purple tier then all schools can reopen at all grades.  

He reported that on Aug. 25, the state issued new guidance that relaxed some of the restrictions for in-group instruction with a focus on children who may have special needs, including those learning English as a second language. 

Levin said the changes apply to indoor environments for schools, nonprofits and other types of agencies that work with children providing limited instruction, “meaning teaching.” The guidelines call for a “stable group of kids,” 14 or fewer, and two teachers to make up a cohort. The rules also allow for one outside person to come in, such as an occupational, speech or behavioral therapist, to provide “targeted intervention strategies.” Levin encouraged those interested to work with the county, saying that officials would “do everything in our power to support this” type of instruction “and green light this kind of” support. 

State of California new blueprint for reducing COVID-19 in the state, including revised criteria for loosening and tightening restrictions and activities:

Salons, barber shops and malls are able to reopen for indoor services beginning Monday, Aug. 31. These sectors must register, if they have not already done so, with and follow the state issued industry guidance.