(Image by Fusion Medical Animation on Unsplash)

San Mateo County continues to see improved COVID-19 numbers as its case rate and testing positivity rate decreased for the week ending Sept. 26.

The adjusted case rate dropped from 6 to 4.3 per 100,000 and the testing positivity rate decreased from 3.7 percent to 2.6 percent, according to the state’s data. The county, however, is still in the red (substantial risk) tier of the state’s Blueprint for a Safer Economy.

“I think wearing masks, social distancing, and opening up society outdoors has helped us,” County Manager Mike Callagy said during a COVID-19 media briefing on Wednesday.

Callagy said the county is close to advancing to the less restrictive orange (moderate risk) tier, but it’s not there yet.

The county moved to the red tier on Sept. 22. It must remain in the red tier for at least three weeks and meet the criteria for the orange tier for two consecutive weeks before advancing.

With its 2.6 percent test positivity rate, the county already meets the orange tier threshold for testing positivity.

However, the county has not yet met the case rate and health equity metric criteria for the orange tier.

The orange tier requires a case rate of less than four per 100,000. The county must also meet the state’s new health equity metric, which accounts for test positivity rates in census tracts in the lowest quartile of the state’s Healthy Places Index (HPI).

The goal of the new metric is to encourage counties to decrease COVID-19 transmission rates in high-risk communities that are disproportionately affected by the virus.

Currently, San Mateo County’s HPI positivity rate is 5.3 percent, close to the 5.2 percent threshold to advance to the orange tier.

Callagy also said the state is working with counties to improve race/ethnicity data, which is unknown for approximately one third of state data and 21 percent of county cases.

In San Mateo County, COVID-19 cases continue to be concentrated in the Latinx population, which accounts for 51 percent of cases though it makes up only 24 percent of the overall county population.

“The crux of it is really getting out and expanding communications in a culturally competent way,” Callagy said. “We’re working with local organizations to amplify the message of wearing a mask, social distancing, washing hands and getting tested, especially for essential workers.”

To this end, San Mateo County has expanded testing, through the San Mateo County Event Center, mobile testing sites and neighborhood-level targeted testing. People can visit the county’s website at www.smcgov.org/testing for a full testing schedule.

The county increased its testing by about 8 percent the past week, with 280.8 tests per 100,000 compared to 259.6 the previous week.

Callagy said the county completed a daily average of 481 tests at the event center and 311 tests at the mobile sites for the past week. The county can continue to increase testing, as the event center has a testing capacity of up to 1,000 tests per day.

Lastly, as the flu season begins, Callagy and Deputy Chief of San Mateo County Health Srija Srinivasan encouraged everyone to get a flu shot.

“The symptoms for the flu and COVID-19 have a lot of similarity,” Srinivasan said. “The more we can protect ourselves from the flu, the more we can protect everybody from the risks that are out there.”

Although the CDC reported that flu cases could decrease due to COVID-19 interventions, Srinivasan said everyone must “stay vigilant” and continue doing core behaviors of washing hands, social distancing and wearing a face covering.