Ventura County plans to fight possible return to more restrictions over rising COVID-19 case rate

Coronavirus

Given a recently rising coronavirus case rate, Ventura County may be returning to the most restrictive stage of California’s reopening plan, forcing businesses to close indoors once again.

But county officials said Thursday they plan to fight that possibility — even if it means appealing the state’s decision to have Ventura County removed from the red tier (which it’s currently in).

The county moved into this second-most restrictive stage of the state’s plan last month, allowing indoor operations inside businesses such as restaurants, gyms and movie theaters for the first time in weeks. Before that, Ventura County was in the most restrictive purple tier, when the virus is considered “widespread” and many businesses cannot host customers indoors.

More than 15,000 cases have been reported and 171 COVID-19 patients have died, according to county public health data.

However, a case rate that has inched upward in the past few weeks puts the county at risk of going backwards in its reopening journey. Ventura County CEO Mike Powers described it as a “troubling trend” he hopes can be reversed with more people getting tested and avoiding gatherings with other households.

“We’re not heading in a good direction right now,” Powers said. “But there is some hope.”

Ventura County is currently in the first week of being on track to return to the purple tier, and it takes two weeks to move into another tier. But after next week, the county could potentially keep itself from returning to the purple tier with a one-week extension from the state, Powers said.

He also said officials plan to contest moving Ventura into the purple tier, appealing the decision with the state. Powers said private gatherings with other households are what’s driving up the case rate so businesses should not have to face more closures and restrictions.

A change in how the state measures the case rate, which just went into effect Monday, has also led to an increase in Ventura County’s rate, something Powers said hurt the region’s progress further.

Currently, restaurants and movie theaters are able to hold up to 25% of their maximum capacity or 100 people — whichever is fewer — while gyms have been able to reopen at 10% capacity. Many other businesses closed for weeks when Ventura County was in the purple tier have also been allowed to reopen indoors since moving into the red tier last month.

Local officials are hoping Ventura County makes progress — mostly through more people getting tested and avoiding private gatherings — to avoid falling back into the purple tier.

“We now realize that this is a marathon, it’s not a sprint, and we all are becoming fatigued with this,” said Dr. Melissa Baker, medical director of the Infectious Disease Department at Ventura County Medical Center in Santa Paula.

“But it’s really important that we continue to push through with this,” Baker said. “This is the new way of life, and we kind of just have to adjust to it for now.”

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