State to start tracking inequity of coronavirus spread

(Jenny On The Moon/Getty Images)

California will start tracking a metric intended to determine the inequity of the coronavirus’ spread, the state’s two top public health officials said Tuesday.

The state’s Healthy Places Index provides coronavirus test positivity data on a census tract-level with the goal of highlighting the areas of the state that are either healthier or unhealthier than others, allowing for more targeted support for communities that are disproportionately affected by the coronavirus.

Since late August, state public health officials have tracked the case rate per 100,000 residents and the test positivity rate for each of the state’s 58 counties to determine how widespread the virus is and whether it is safe for a county to open certain businesses. Starting Tuesday, the state also began tracking the HPI scores for individual counties. Those with lower scores will be able to move quicker through the state’s color-coded, tiered reopening system, according to Dr. Erica Pan, the state’s acting public health officer.

“We have to prioritize our interventions to the communities where we’re seeing the most disease,” Pan said, noting that communities with the most coronavirus transmission are often those inhabited by essential workers.

So far, Humboldt County is the only county to move to a less restrictive reopening tier based on its HPI score, moving to the least restrictive yellow tier.

Pan and state Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly argued California is the first state in the country to tie economic reopening to reducing unequal test positivity.

Ghaly also emphasized the importance of “ensuring that we invest dollars that the state has received from the federal government to work on mitigating and reducing transmission, that counties are using those dollars in targeted ways to focus … on communities with a disproportionate impact.”

Only two counties in the greater Bay Area — Sonoma and Monterey counties — are in the most restrictive reopening tier. None of the Bay Area’s other counties changed tiers when the state updated its tier assignments on Tuesday.

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