Merced County Times Newspaper
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County hitting ‘Red’ criteria, trending toward new status soon

However, region is faring worse than nearby areas

There is reason to hope Merced County will soon move from the most restrictive Purple Tier to the Red Tier because case numbers are trending downwards, but it is important to follow COVID protocols to maintain this good data.

“We have to meet the criteria for two consecutive weeks before we move,” reminded Dr. Kristynn Sullivan, the county’s supervising epidemiologist. “Today [March 30], the state announced that we’ve met Red criteria for one week. …

“If our data stays the same or gets better, then on April 6 we’ll move into the Red Tier.

“I’m really hopeful we’ll make it to Red and won’t immediately turn around and go back because of Easter.  It’s important to keep Easter celebrations small and follow all the same COVID protocols, including masking for people who are not vaccinated.”

To move from Purple to Red, the criteria for two consecutive weeks is fewer than 10 daily cases per 100,000 residents; a test positivity rate below 8%; and (with respect to counties with more than 106,000 people) a health equity positivity rate below 8% in socioeconomically disadvantaged Zip codes.

Dr. Sullivan explained, “The thing that was holding us back was the number of cases per day per 100,000 residents.

“But as of this morning, our number of daily cases is 8.8 per 100,000.  We had to be below 10 daily cases per 100,000, and this is the first time we dipped below 10.”

Indoor dining, indoor gyms, indoor movie theaters and indoor museums, zoos and aquariums, all with indoor capacity adjustments, will be available in Red Tier.

Family entertainment centers, winery and brewery tasting rooms, and a brand new Blueprint item effective April 1, live events and performances (with an audience at 20% of a venue’s normal capacity), will be allowed outdoors in Red Tier.

Dr. Sullivan told the Times, “If we move into Red on April 6, the live events and performances will be another big change effective in Merced County that day.  “We’ll make an announcement through our normal communications, including social media and e mail updates and potentially through a press release and other mechanisms as well.


Second worst infection rate

“Merced County has the second worst COVID infection rate of all 58 counties in California. Several surrounding counties moved into the Red Tier today [March 30], so we are faring worse than some of our surrounding counties.

“Merced, San Joaquin and Inyo are the only three counties of the 58 in the State of California still in the Purple Tier.

“I think the fact we have some of the lowest vaccination rates in the state is certainly contributing to that, and that’s due to the fact we had one of the lowest allocations in the state.

“Also, almost everything is open, like indoor dining, and it’s not supposed to be, and I think COVID fatigue is at a fever pitch here.


What can be done to decrease Merced County’s COVID infection rate?

“Widespread vaccination is the only way for us to substantially get back to normal.

“Currently, roughly 10 percent of eligible adults in Merced County have been vaccinated.

“Across the country, case rates are starting to go up again.  Especially as we head into the Easter weekend, we are wary of reversing the trend we’ve seen.

“Our cases are trending downward, but it has taken us a really long time to get out of the holiday surge, and now we’re heading into Easter, Memorial Day, Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, so people really need to prioritize getting vaccinated in order to return to some semblance of normalcy, especially considering all those events coming up.

“There are many clinics in Merced County.  Eligibility in Merced County has opened up, and anyone eligible can get a vaccine.  Vaccines are available  for anybody 16 and over for Pfizer and anybody 18 and over for both Moderna and Johnson & Johnson.

“People can still sign up on   There is a map on that website showing locations where providers have vaccine.  There are also e mail notices going out to those eligible.


COVID statistics

“The surge started going down in mid-January, although it was still really high.  “We finally dipped down below 100 new cases per day is early to mid-February.  “Typically right now the number of cases is around 40 new cases per day which is pretty manageable.”

“Our regional ICU capacity is at 21.3 percent which is much better than it was during the surge.

“The number of deaths has decreased because we have fewer cases and fewer people being hospitalized and so fewer people dying.

“We’re at 435 deaths here and we’re about to be at our one-year anniversary of our first fatality.  The number of deaths from COVID is much higher than our previous leading cause of death which is All Cancers.

“Outbreaks have started to go up just a tiny bit in our skilled nursing facilities recently, and we’re starting to see more outbreaks in schools because schools are back in session for in-person instruction, but the number of outbreaks is not as high as they were during the surge.

“We currently have 19 outbreaks.”

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