(Photo via Patrick Pho/Flickr)

While San Mateo County remained in the orange tier of the state’s Blueprint for a Safer Economy for a third consecutive week, health officials reported a slight uptick in COVID-19 cases for the first week of November.

During a presentation Tuesday to county supervisors, San Mateo Chief of Health Louise Rogers said the increase in cases mirrors the trend across the Bay Area, the state and the nation.

“As the winter approaches and it gets colder, we’ve been expecting an uptick,” Rogers said.

The county’s data dashboard shows that from Oct. 25 to 31, there were on average 43.7 new cases per day. From Nov. 1 to Nov. 7, the average was 66.6 new cases per day.

Rogers said it’s too soon to determine an exact cause for the increase.

“It takes a little more than five days to start to see the change in the epidemiology after gatherings,” she said. “I don’t think it’s limited to Halloween gatherings, for example, but I’d say locally we see that gatherings are a challenge.”

Health officials from Bay Area counties on Monday released recommendations for gatherings and travel during the holidays. Gatherings should take place outdoors, with no more than three households. They should also be short – no more than two hours – and stable, meaning people should not participate in multiple gatherings with multiple households.

Rogers also said students returning home for the holidays need to be vigilant by practicing social distancing, wearing face coverings, getting tested and remaining at home in relative isolation.

“After they (students) are home they’re going to want to see their friends,” Rogers said. “We really want to encourage people if they’re gathering at all to be outside. In the Bay Area, it gets a little chilly, but we can all manage that and it’s really much, much safer.”

San Mateo County remained in the orange tier of the state’s Blueprint for a Safer Economy according to the state’s Tuesday tier announcements. This week’s tier assignment is based on data for the week ending Oct. 31, which the county has an adjusted case rate of 2.2 cases per day per 100,000 population, a 1.3 percent test positivity rate and a 2.5 percent health equity quartile positivity rate.

Statewide, there are on average 8.4 new cases per day per 100,000 and the test positivity rate is 3.4 percent.

Next week’s blueprint data chart will reflect COVID-19 numbers for the first week of November. Advancing to the least restrictive yellow (minimal risk) tier requires an adjusted case rate of less than 1 per 100,000 and a test positivity rate of less than 2 percent, which San Mateo County would have to meet for two consecutive weeks.

While the county’s test positivity rate already meets the yellow tier’s criteria, its case rate remains a challenge.

“The yellow tier seems pretty out of reach at this point given what we’re seeing in the region,” Rogers said. In the Bay Area, only San Francisco has reached the yellow tier.

Rogers said the county should focus on helping businesses operate safely in the orange tier. The county’s COVID-19 compliance unit is educating businesses about regulations and ensuring they remain compliant.

Launched on Oct. 19, the unit’s engagement team has engaged with 65 businesses, and the compliance unit has visited 212 sites, County Manager Mike Callagy said at a media briefing last Wednesday. People can report a non-compliant business on the county’s website. Callagy said 200 complaints have been submitted so far.

“The highest number of complaints are in San Mateo, Redwood City, Daly City and South San Francisco. No surprise, they are the big cities that we have,” Callagy said during the Nov. 4 briefing. “The most common type of business to receive complaints are restaurants, bars and fitness centers.”

Callagy said that the unit is focused on indoor operations, and the most common types of violations are not wearing masks or practicing social distancing.

During Tuesday’s board meeting, Supervisor David Canepa expressed concern about the economy if the county went back to the red (substantial risk) tier, which would increase restrictions on businesses and activities.

Canepa asked how the county could reinforce its efforts to “crush the virus.”

“What I’m hearing from people is that fatigue is setting in,” he said. “How do we really double down? It’s more critical now than ever. Because if we don’t make the appropriate adjustments, our economy will crash.”

“Until the vaccine is really out, we’re not going to crush (the virus) so we’re going to manage it,” Rogers said. “In the next several months, what’s really imperative is that we deal with the gatherings.”

Rogers encouraged people to stay vigilant and get tested, adding that there’s no barrier to testing. The county provides free COVID-19 testing at the San Mateo County Event Center and rotating sites throughout the county.

For a full testing schedule, visit www.smcgov.org/testing.

Regarding the risk of moving into the red tier, Rogers said that it would not happen as early as next week, but could be later on if numbers don’t change.

The state’s blueprint rules say that if a county’s case rate and test positivity numbers reach a more restrictive tier for two consecutive weeks, the state will review the most recent 10 days of data for signs of improvement before determining whether a county will move back or remain in its current tier.