Rule changes mean Nevada County likely to stay in red tier

Nevada County is now likely to remain in the red tier barring “extenuating circumstances,” thanks to changes to the state’s reopening blueprint announced this week.

The new changes reflect the state’s race to get its vaccination rate up and hospitalizations down, rather than the focus on case and positivity rates represented by the blueprint.

With the new changes, a county will only move into a more restrictive tier if hospitalizations among vulnerable residents, including those vaccinated, “significantly” increase.

Case and test positivity rates must also show a “concerning increase” to move backward, all but guaranteeing counties will stay in their current tiers.

The changes come as Gov. Gavin Newsom this week announced the state anticipates doing away with the tier system and most COVID-19 restrictions June 15, when over 30 million vaccine doses are expected to be administered.

Previously, if the county had more than 10 new cases per day or 8% positivity it would be in danger of falling into the purple tier. This week Nevada County’s case rate jumped from 6.9 new cases per day to 12.7.

With the focus now on hospitalizations, the county is in a much better position to remain partially open.

According to state data, after averaging double-digit suspected COVID-19 hospitalizations from the end of November through the first half of February, the county hasn’t recorded any double digit hospitalization days since.

The county could also still fall backward if vaccine uptake slows, but despite having one of the lowest immunization rates in the state recently, demand has been steady.

According to an NPR/Marist poll taken in late March, 25% of all Americans and 40% of rural residents said they would not take the vaccine if made available to them.

In California, 21% said they would probably or definitely not get the vaccine, according to a Public Policy in California poll.

State officials warned new coronavirus variants with higher transmission rates, like the one confirmed in Nevada County this week, could add to the percentage of people who need to be vaccinated before containing the virus.

According to public health officials, there’s no telling locally how widespread any possible variants have become due to the lack of genomic sequencing availability.

Across the state and in Nevada County as vaccine administration has picked up, the age of people infected with COVID-19 has trended younger.

In Nevada County, the average age has been around 30 years old recently, according to Dr. Scott Kellermann, the county public health officer.

While cases across the state have remained relatively steady over the last two weeks, the death count has gone down, which may also be a sign of vaccinations becoming more widespread. From March 27 to April 7 the seven-day average death count in the state dropped from 232 to 118.


With increased vaccinations soon leading to a statewide reopening, U.S. Rep. Doug LaMalfa on Thursday stopped by Old Town Cafe in Grass Valley in what was billed as a town hall.

“(I)t’s nice that the congressman took time to come to a small town talk to the people, and listen to them,“ said Old Town Cafe owner Robin Buckman.

Buckman said the event went well and drew a “nice crowd.”

“Congressman LaMalfa met with citizens and business owners who had reached out to our office regarding their concerns over continued government restrictions on reopening as well as floated plans for ’COVID Vaccine Passports,’” LaMalfa’s Chief of Staff Mark Spannagel said in an email.

According to Spannagel, the event was outdoors. LaMalfa also visited Mustang Firearms to discuss opposition to President Joe Biden’s potential gun control proposals, Spannagel said.

Old Town Cafe was one of three local businesses last year facing fines for operating indoors. LaMalfa visited the restaurant last year as well.

John Orona is a Staff Writer for The Union, a sister publication to the Sierra Sun. To contact him, email or call 530-477-4229.

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