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Kern County must remain in the purple tier after it misses one COVID-19 metric

Kern County will remain in the purple tier for at least another week as new data revealed one coronavirus metric exceeded state limits.

While some believed Kern County would be eligible to enter the less restrictive red tier this week, the county’s ratio of new COVID-19 cases proved to be too high to allow the transition.

The state requires counties to report a case rate of 7 percent or below to qualify for the red tier. Kern’s case rate, as of the most recent date analyzed, Feb. 27, was 11.1 cases per 100,000 residents. Because the county’s testing rate was below the state average, state officials adjusted the county’s case rate up to 11.8.

The adjustment, which is meant to encourage counties to test widely, is used by state officials to determine a county’s eligibility to move tiers.

Other metrics used to determine eligibility are the positivity rate of COVID-19 tests and the health equity metric.

Counties must report a positivity rate between 5 percent and 8 percent, with a health equity metric of 5.3 percent to 8 percent to enter the red tier. Measuring the positivity rate of the lowest quarter of a county’s census tracts, the health equity metric is meant to ensure poor areas aren’t left behind.

As of Monday, Kern’s positivity rate was 4.9 percent, which is good enough to qualify for the orange tier. The county’s health equity metric was 7.6 percent.

The purple tier, red tier and orange tier are all classifications used by the state’s Blueprint for a Safer Economy, which determines the level of business and social activities that can take place. The most restrictive of four tiers, the purple tier requires most non-essential businesses to be closed, while the red tier allows for some flexibility.

A recent change in policy from the state dictated that once 2 million vaccines have been distributed to 400 of California’s poorest ZIP codes, requirements to enter the red tier would relax slightly.

Once the required doses have been administered, a county’s case rate can be as high as 10 to enter the red tier.

Once 4 million doses have been administered a second expansion of the tier system is planned.

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