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COVID-19 UPDATE: Merced County poised for return to most restrictive ‘Purple’ tier


The concern that Merced County might slip back into the Purple tier — the most restrictive level in California’s fight to stop the spread of COVID-19 — is close to becoming a reality.


The county has been in the Red tier since Oct. 6, and remained in red as of Tuesday, Nov. 10, but the state may return the county to Purple on Tuesday, Nov. 17.


“In the last two weeks, the number of daily cases in Merced County has nearly doubled,” reported the Merced County Public Health Department. “As a result, the county is not meeting the state’s metric to remain in the Red tier.”


To make its determination on tier assignment, the positivity rate and the number of new cases per 100,000 residents per day are the key factors the state watches. The goal is a positivity rate of less than 8 percent and cases per day of less than 7 per 100,000.


The case rate per 100,000 per day was 12.8 as of Nov. 9, according to Amalia Madrigal Hernandez, Division Manager of the Prevention, Policy and Planning Division of the MercedCounty Public Health Department.


As of Nov. 9, the positivity rate was 4.8 percent.


She explained, “Tiers are updated on Tuesdays at noon. If Merced County does not meet metrics for the tiers, it will be announced on Tuesday, Nov. 17, when the tiers are updated for all counties.


“If the state moves Merced County back to the Purple tier on Nov. 17, businesses would be expected to be in compliance 72 hours later, on Nov. 20.”


Under the less restrictive Red Tier, community members have been enjoying going to restaurants, which are open indoors at 25 percent capacity or 100 people, whichever is fewer.  Other non-essential indoor businesses which have resumed operations under Red tier are indoor activities at gym and fitness centers at 10 percent maximum capacity, dance studios at 10 percent maximum capacity, and indoor services at places of worship with 25 percent maximum capacity or 100 people, whichever is fewer.


“Reverting back to the Purple tier will adversely impact some businesses, and activities for county residents will again be restricted,” reported Madrigal-Hernandez.


“This includes the closure of most indoor services that were recently authorized to reopen.


“However, personal care services are now eligible to remain open indoors.


“If the county moves to Purple tier, there will be changes to businesses that are currently open, with modifications, in the Red tier.”


Family entertainment centers and drive-in Theaters will be outdoor only, with modifications.


Hair salons and barbershops will be open indoors, with modifications.


Grade K through12 schools will be closed for in-person learning, but may apply to the Merced County Public Health Department for a waiver for grades K through 6 for in-person instruction.


However, the grade K through12 schools that reopened with the wavier will remain open.


Outdoor hot tubs can open only for use by household groups or in cases where six feet of distancing can be maintained.


For more information on the business sectors that are impacted under the Purple tier, those interested can go online to:



COVID Metrics

As of Nov. 10, the total number of laboratory-confirmed cases was 10,193, an increase of 374 from a week ago, when that number was 9,819.


The probable active (new laboratory-confirmed cases in the last 14 days) was 609.  A week ago, this number was 404.


These numbers have been trending upwards, which is a concern.

In the months of September and October, the number of new cases per day averaged about 20, which was much better than the July and August case spikes when new cases numbered about 100 per day.


In October and November, however, there has been another upward trend in new cases, which currently increase by about 40 or 50 per day.


As of Nov. 9, the total active hospitalizations of Merced County residents hospitalized in any county was 33.  The active hospitalizations of Merced County residents hospitalized in Merced County was 11.  These have been increasing, but slowly.


As of Nov. 10, the total number of deaths in Merced County was 164, which is an increase of nine fatalities in 12 days.




There are 15 outbreaks as of Nov.10.

The outbreaks are at Anberry Rehabilitation Center AtwaterAtwater Federal Prison USPS, Central Valley Cardiovascular Medical Group Inc., Davidson Residential Homes, Dole in Atwater, Franciscan, Hilmar Cheese Company, Hy-Lond Healthcare MercedMerced County John Latorraca Jail, MercedCounty Main Jail, New Bethany, Pacifica Senior Living Merced, Park Merced Assisted Living, Triple C Inc., and Yamato Colony MCOE Assets Program.


In the past week, new outbreaks have occurred at Central Valley Cardiovascular Medical Group Inc., Franciscan, New Bethany, and the Yamato Colony Merced County Office of Education Assets Program


The Merced County Department of Public Works was eliminated from the outbreak list on Nov. 10.


New Bethany and Franciscan are facilities with new outbreaks that already had outbreaks that were cleared.


To keep outbreak from recurring, the Merced County Public Health Department reports that the facilities are working with Public Health to stay up to date on prevention procedures and reach out for guidance as needed.


“Skilled nursing facilities are practicing surveillance testing on a weekly basis.


“Due to the nature of COVID, outbreaks may reoccur in facilities where they have been previously, due to previous non-infected individuals becoming infected with COVID.


“With proper prevention techniques, mask wearing, wearing proper PPE, washing hands, surveillance testing, and so forth, outbreaks may be decreased but cannot be 100 percent prevented.


“There could be many reasons as to why outbreaks are happening in places multiple times.


“Possible reasons:


1. The pandemic is ongoing and not all employees at a single location have tested positive. This leaves room open for other employees who were not previously positive to become positive and expose those at the workplace.


2. People may feel less vulnerable to the infection and be taking less precautions due to the county moving to the less restrictive tier.


3. Skilled nursing facilities may come and go on this list as they follow different outbreak definitions than other locations. A single positive staff member or resident puts a skilled nursing facility into outbreak.  Additionally, all staff members at these locations are conducting surveillance testing on a weekly basis, so cases may be caught more frequently thus making the facility go on the list multiple times.”


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