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Ask Dr. Halverson: State coronavirus watch list: What is watched? How does VC get off of it?

web 4 17 Halverson photo
By Dr. Jim Halverson
Gov. Gavin Newsom announced July 17 that schools teaching grades K-12 will not be able to resume in-person learning until their respective counties are off of the state’s COVID-19 watch list for at least 14 consecutive days. This effectively closed all public and private schools in 31 of California’s 58 counties, leaving nearly 80% of all K-12 students in our state without an on-campus option when schools start again this fall. Here are the numbers (called metrics) that the state is monitoring on a daily basis. Failing one of the six can place a county on the list. In fact, on July 26, 36 counties are now on the list.

 

ELEVATED DISEASE TRANSMISSION 
The 14-day case rate (total number of cases diagnosed and reported in the last 14 days) and the seven-day positivity rate (percentage of tests reported that are positive in the past seven days) are used to assess the COVID-19 burden in a county. For each metric, the higher the number, the more a county is impacted by COVID-19. A county is flagged for elevated disease transmission if:
    1) The case rate per 100,000 people is over 100 (Ventura County has 850,000 people so that would be over 850 cases in the past 14 days or an average of over 60 cases per day) OR
    2) The case rate per 100,000 is over 25 and the seven-day positivity rate is over 8%.
Ventura County is currently failing this metric with a 14-day case rate of 184 cases per 100,000 people in the past 14 days (1,545 cases). Our current positivity rate is 8%, up from 5% four weeks ago.

 

INCREASING HOSPITALIZATIONS
Monitoring changes in the number of individuals who are hospitalized for COVID-19 is another metric that is followed. I believe it is the most accurate way to assess disease burden in our county. Unlike the case rate or test positivity rate, it is less likely to be influenced by how much testing is occurring. A county is failing this metric if:
    1) There has been over a 10% increase in the average number of patients hospitalized in the past three days versus the proceeding three days.
Ventura County is currently passing this metric with a 3% decrease in the number of patients hospitalized July 22-24 versus July 19-21.

 

LIMITED HOSPITAL CAPACITY
A county is considered to meet limited hospital capacity if:
    1) Less than 20% of staffed ICU beds in county hospitals are available OR
    2) Less than 25% of ventilators in county hospitals are available.
Ventura County is currently failing this metric as only 10% of our staffed ICU beds are currently available. This number can change very rapidly. Eighty-two percent of ventilators are currently available.

 

INADEQUATE TESTING
This is defined as averaging fewer than 150 tests per 100,000 county residents daily over a seven-day period. In Ventura County, that would be fewer than 1,350 tests per day. We are currently averaging nearly 2,000 tests per day.

 

SUMMARY
In Ventura County, increasing reported cases and low number of staffed ICU beds available are keeping us on the watch list. In addition, our case positivity rate of 8% is nearly too high (over 8%). On-campus opening of our K-12 schools and further opening of our county businesses are currently not allowed by state metrics. To follow continuous updates on these six metrics in our county, please go to www.venturacountyrecovers.org. The metrics for Ventura County are reported just below the coronavirus case information data.
As Ojai numbers remain lower than those of other areas in our county, steps can be taken for the benefit of our community. A waiver may be granted by the county health officer for elementary schools to open for on-campus instruction. It may only be granted if it is requested by the superintendent (or equivalent for private or charter schools) in consultation with school staff , parents and community organizations. Ventura County officials must review Ojai Valley’s data and consult with the California Department of Public Health when considering a waiver request. (For now, Ventura County Public Health Officer Dr. Robert Levin said he is not accepting school waivers.) In addition, our city may (and has) requested a waiver for reopening businesses in our community. Ojai City Manager James Vega and Ojai Valley Chamber of Commerce CEO Jamie Fleming have been very proactive on behalf of our local businesses.
The key to improving our “new normal” is doing our part to keep case rates down and encouraging our friends and neighbors to do the same. Set a good example for others. Thank those who are doing the same. Our entire valley, our merchants, our students and their families, and our schoolteachers and employees will benefit from our combined efforts.
Stay positive, stay committed, stay safe and stay well.

 

— Dr. Jim Halverson is a longtime Ojai physician who is writing a weekly column on COVID-19 for the Ojai Valley News.

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