Health equity now a factor in reopening of California counties

Serious coronavirus-linked condition hit 285 US children
Posted at 5:54 PM, Oct 06, 2020
and last updated 2020-10-06 22:56:55-04

A new metric went into effect on Tuesday that will help determine when counties in California can reopen.

It's called the health equity metric.

Currently, counties in California are placed in one of four color-coded risk tiers.

The state uses two indicators, the average number of COVID-19 cases per day and the average percentage of positive test results, in order to determine how and when a county can reopen.

Dr. Penny Borenstein, San Luis Obispo County Public Health Officer, explained the goal of the new, third indicator.

"Ensuring that within counties that there not be pockets of worse transmission or worse disease impacts based on indicators related to those areas," Dr. Borenstein said.

Neighborhoods are grouped and scored on the Healthy Places Index.

"Based on a wide variety of indicators as to the expected health and wellbeing of a community having to do with affordability of housing, access to healthcare, access to healthy foods, whether there are parks, transportation," Dr. Borenstein added.

She says 12 San Luis Obispo County neighborhoods fall within the lowest category on this index, meaning those areas will be more closely monitored.

In Santa Barbara County, there are 21 neighborhoods or census tracts that will be watched.

"What the state will be doing is taking the positivity rates in these census tracts and average it and compare it with the rest of the county," said Dr. Van Do-Reynoso, Santa Barbara County Public Health Director.

The new metric requires that these places on the lower end of the HPI not have a worse positivity rate than the rest of the county as a whole.

Dr. Borenstein explains that if it worsens, this could potentially slow the reopening process.

"Counties that do have a discrepancy between their positivity rate of these counties and the county as a whole are not able to move forward in the less restrictive tier," Dr. Borenstein said.

While we'll have to address the drivers of inequity to overcome the pandemic, Dr. Borenstein says San Luis Obispo County is doing pretty well.

"We are getting a fair bit of extra credit if you will for the fact that our testing rates, our testing volume is quite high in this county compared to most places," Dr. Borenstein said.

"I'm excited that the state is recognizing the importance of paying attention to these neighborhoods," Dr. Do-Reynoso added.

Overall, San Luis Obispo County's positivity rate is 1.9%. In Santa Barbara County, it's 3.3%.

According to data, 45.6% of the total cases in San Luis Obispo County are in the Hispanic and Latino community.