COVID-19 illness is again on the rise in Stanislaus County

Modesto resident Maren Lundrigan shows instructions to a coronvirus testee at the Salida Library on

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Modesto resident Maren Lundrigan shows instructions to a coronvirus testee at the Salida Library on Monday, April 20, 2020 in Salida, California.

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Stanislaus County may be running out of options in trying to prevent another state-ordered clampdown on businesses and activities due to the coronavirus outbreak.

County leaders had talked this week about filing a claim asking for a careful review of data before a state decision Tuesday that could return Stanislaus to the most restrictive purple tier in California’s reopening plan.

But the county recorded a disappointing 70 new COVID-19 cases Thursday followed by 82 on Friday.

“Those are numbers where you can’t make any sort of case,” Dr. Julie Vaishampayan, county health officer. She spoke on the phone Friday about five minutes after seeing the newest case data. “Up until yesterday I was pretty confident we could do this.”

Based on the data, the county could return to purple status Tuesday.

Vaishampayan said the county could possibly justify making what’s called an adjudication claim if the numbers are significantly lower over the weekend. The county is trying to meet a key metric of 7 cases daily per 100,000 population or lower (less than 40 cases per day), which would allow the county to remain in the red tier with fewer restrictions on restaurant dining, retail businesses, gyms and churches.

The state’s weekly evaluation of the county’s tier assignment, set for Monday, will look at data from Oct. 25-31. But the state also will review the last 10 days of data and could keep the county in red if there are objective signs of improvement.

More daily case numbers in the 70s or 80s on Saturday and Sunday are not going to impress state health officials. Stanislaus County was posting new cases in the 40s and 50s earlier in the week on its online dashboard.

Stanislaus is in danger of a fallback to the most restrictive tier because its case rate was 7.6 per 100,000 in the update last week. A penalty for testing volume below the state median adjusted the rate to 7.9.

Newsom’s team can impose more restrictions

The coronavirus policies of Gov. Gavin Newsom’s administration can impose more restrictions on counties that fail to meet the criteria for two straight weeks, although the California Department of Public Health may also consider what’s happened in the last 10 days. Counties can also ask for adjudication, which may delay reassignment for a week while the claim is considered.

County leaders are critical of the state’s stringent coronavirus policies for emphasizing case data and restraining the economy in communities that no longer see major impacts on hospitals. COVID-related hospitalizations dropped from 62 on Monday to 53 on Friday in Stanislaus County.

The same hospitals were treating more than 250 coronavirus patients during a huge surge in July.

Stanislaus, which was approved for the red tier Oct. 12, adjudicated a state tier decision in late September and the state agreed it should have qualified for red status a week earlier. Vaishampayan’s staff did some sleuthing and found 885 nursing home test results were not factored into the state’s Sept. 28 determination.

A new adjudication claim could provide clarity on the level of COVID-19 transmission in local communities or testing data.

Vaishampayan said the recent increase in coronavirus cases has been across the board. It’s not driven by a single source like family gatherings, nursing homes or outbreaks where people work.

Health experts have predicted an increase in infections with the fall weather as people spend more time indoors. “It might be as simple as that,” Vaishampayan said.

The county continues to stress that the standard precautions will help keep sectors of the economy open. Those include wearing a mask, staying 6 feet away from others, hand-washing and not holding social gatherings indoors.

A return to purple status next week would again place a ban on indoor restaurant dining, restrict retail to 25 percent capacity, close fitness center doors and empty the pews in worship sanctuaries.

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Ken Carlson covers county government and health care for The Modesto Bee. His coverage of public health, medicine, consumer health issues and the business of health care has appeared in The Bee for 15 years.

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