IMPERIAL COUNTY — Imperial County public health officials are cautioning the public to continue to follow COVID-related health and safety guidelines in order to help stem the transmission of the pandemic and allow the county to advance in the state’s reopening plan.
The admonishment came as the county was experiencing a rise in the number of new cases per day, per 100,000 residents, and an increase in the rate of individuals testing positive.
“The more people mix, the higher the risk of transmission,” Janette Angulo, county Public Health Department director, told the county Board of Supervisors during its Oct. 13 regular meeting. “What people do out in the community really matters.”
On Oct. 13, the county’s positive test rate stood at 9.1 percent, compared to 4.9 percent a week prior, according to the metrics the state uses. The state also reported an increase from 8.2 percent to 12 percent in the daily number of new cases, per 100,00 residents.
The two metrics are used by the state’s Blueprint for a Safer Economy to determine the level of restrictions imposed on a county’s social and economic activity. The county currently finds itself in the state’s purple tier, the most restrictive of its four-color model.
In order to advance to the red tier, the county must report a positive test rate no greater than 8 percent, and a daily new case rate no more than seven per 100,000 residents.
Though Angulo offered slightly different statistics that reflected the county’s reporting methods, that data nonetheless equally tracked an increase in new case and positivity rates similar to the state’s data.
She also spent part of her presentation during the Oct. 13 meeting explaining some of the differences between the county’s COVID-related data and that of the state.
While the state determines daily cases by the date a positive laboratory test was collected, the county’s data represents the date of the test’s result. Angulo characterized the latter as presenting a “more complete” picture.
“It was better data for us,” Angulo said.
Additionally, the county includes its inmate population in its tabulation of new daily cases and positivity rate, while the state excludes those individuals who are incarcerated in federal and behavioral health institutions.
In order to advance in the state’s Blueprint for a Safer Economy, the county must also meet the blueprint’s health equity metric, which the state made effective Oct. 6.
The health equity metric is meant to ensure that different census tracts within a community are not experiencing disparities in COVID-related health outcomes. It also tasks counties with adopting measures to identify and address those disparities.
“We need to be able to identify why the big differences and we need to have interventions in place to address those kinds of gaps,” Angulo said.
As part of that effort, the county is expected to soon announce the availability of funds to hire community-based organizations as subcontractors to help address any disparities, she said. The collaborative effort will likely include additional public outreach efforts and assistance with contact tracing.
The county’s health equity metric on Oct. 13 stood at 4.6 percent, below the state’s threshold, Angulo said.
As of Oct. 13, the county had not experienced any consecutive days where it was able to maintain metrics below the state’s threshold for new cases and positivity rates, Angulo said. In order to move into the next tier, the county would have to maintain metrics lower than the state’s threshold for a two-week period.
Another way that the county could advance to the next tier is if it recorded a combination of a positivity rate below 5 percent and a health equity metric below the state’s threshold. In such a scenario, the county would also have to demonstrate that it is making progress with the daily case rate that remained above current tier’s threshold, Angulo said.
County Public Health Officer Dr. Stephen Munday on Oct. 13 also encouraged the public to get tested even if they don’t have symptoms and haven’t been exposed.
County Health Department Shares Halloween Guidelines
The County Public Health Department sent out a press release late Oct. 13 sharing alternative celebrations and recommendations for Halloween and Día de los Muertos amid the pandemic to help avoid the spread of the coronavirus.
The release shared some guidelines from the California Department of Public Health in which state officials warn that many traditional celebrations involving parties or door-to-door trick-or-treating increase the risk for COVID-19 as such traditions “bring together individuals from multiple households in a way that would make it difficult to find and notify individuals who are later determined to have been exposed.”
“For this reason, such activities are strongly discouraged,” the county’s release states.
The guidance follows recently released state and local guidance restricting social gatherings to a minimum of three different households and no more than 16 individuals total, the county stated in the release.
The county and state advise that “regardless of how residents choose to celebrate, it is important to remember the basic protections against the spread of virus, such as washing your hands, staying home if you’re sick, wearing a mask, and socially distancing when in public.”
The state Department of Public Health offers the following recommendations for safer Halloween and Día de Los Muertos celebrations:
Create a haunted house or candy scavenger hunt
Host a scary movie night, with pumpkin carving activities and sweet treats
Dress up your home and yard with Halloween decorations
Prepare a Halloween themed meal with your household
Host a virtual party, complete with costumes and pumpkin carving
Gather the household for a car-based outing such as a drive-in movie or drive to view Halloween decorations
Enjoy outdoor Halloween-themed installments.
Día e los Muertos:
Altars: Create your altar in a front window or outside so others can enjoy from a safe distance.
Virtual Altar: Create a virtual space to honor lost loved ones and share via email or social media.
Cemetery Visits: If you visit the cemetery, only visit with those you live with, wear masks, and maintain appropriate social distancing. Keep your visit short.