Nov. 15 COVID case chart

A chart on the Tuolumne County Public Health Department's online COVID-19 data dashboard illustrates the rise of new cases over the past two weeks.

Tuolumne County public health officials will shift from a containment to mitigation strategy for combating COVID-19 after a combined total of 95 cases were reported on Saturday and Sunday, they announced in a rare update over the weekend.

The county Public Health Department said 45 cases were confirmed on Saturday and 55 on Sunday, with six people hospitalized and 210 in isolation as of Sunday evening.

“Of concern is that hospitalizations lag about a week behind the episode date, and deaths about two weeks behind, so we can expect those impacts to increase in the coming weeks,” local public health officials said in the update on Sunday.

It was also announced by the department over the weekend that the county could be moved into the purple tier, which is the most restrictive on businesses in California’s color-coded ranking system for coronavirus risk, as early as Tuesday.

Local public health officials initially expected that the county would be moved from the orange tier to the more restrictive red tier on Tuesday, but the state has accelerated the way counties can move through the tiers in response to spiking cases, hospitalizations and deaths.

The county would be eligible for the purple tier if it had 42 or more new cases for two consecutive weeks, though the state has cut that down to one week for all 58 counties.

“We had over 42 cases in the week of November 1 to 7,” county public health officials said on Saturday. “Given the possibility of moving up timelines and shortening to a week of data as mentioned above,  this creates the possibility of moving directly into the purple tier as early as Tuesday.”

Businesses would have three days to comply with the new rules in either the red or purple tiers. The state is expected to announce the new tier placements on Monday.

The red tier would require bars to be closed, retail stores to limit the number of customers inside to 50 percent of their maximum capacity, and restaurants, places of worship, and offices in nonessential industries to reduce to 25 percent of their maximum capacity indoors.

A purple-tier designation would also require bars to be closed, retail stores to limit the number of customers inside 25 percent of their maximum capacity, and restaurants, places of worship and offices in nonessential industries to operate only outdoors or remotely.

Schools could also have to shut down under the purple tier if they see a rise in cases and wouldn’t be able to reopen until the county is moved down into the red tier, which would take at least three consecutive weeks of remaining under the limit for new cases.

The announced shift from a strategy containment to mitigation means that the number of cases has gotten to the point that’s impacted the county’s ability to do adequate and timely testing, contact tracing, and case management.

Examples of mitigation strategies that county public health officials outlined in July during a surge of cases at the time could include closing in part or in full certain business sectors and activities considered to be higher risk, schools, events, and recreation areas.

County public health officials also instructed people to quarantine for two weeks from the time they may have been exposed to the disease if contacted by the department, school, or another person who tested positive, and to get tested five days after that date of exposure.

The total number of confirmed cases in the county over the course of the pandemic sat at 562 as of Sunday, 267 of which have all been reported since Oct. 31. Many recent cases have been attributed to Halloween parties and gatherings, county public health officials said Friday.

“It is evident that we are experiencing community transmission and advise the public to stay home except for essential needs,” the department said on Sunday. “In addition, it is vital for individuals who are having symptoms to stay home and avoid going to work or school.”

Contact Alex MacLean at amaclean@uniondemocrat.net or (209) 768-5175.

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