New CA reopening rules require some counties reduce COVID-19 rates in disadvantaged communities

SAN JOSE, Calif. (KGO) -- The California Department of Public Health will now require larger counties to focus on reducing COVID-19 rates in disadvantaged communities, including Black, Latino, and Pacific Islander neighborhoods that have been harder hit by the pandemic. Some are worried that the new equity metric could slow down the state's reopening, but in the Bay Area, it has the potential to help speed things up.

"We want all of our businesses and our communities to come together to realize that it is so important, both to addressing disparities, and actually to interrupt disease transmission and really address this pandemic head-on," said Dr. Erica Pan, a former Alameda County health officer, who was recently appointed as state epidemiologist.

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ABC7 News spent Tuesday afternoon with a Santa Clara County outreach team, as it went door-to-door in an East San Jose neighborhood, which is predominantly Latino, to inform business owners about how they can help stop the spread of the coronavirus.

"Many Latino people work in the service industries," said Dr. Dean Winslow, an infectious disease expert and professor at Stanford School of Medicine. "They don't have the luxury of working at home from Zoom and live in fairly-crowded multi-generational homes."

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Under the state's new health equity measure, targeted investments such as community education can help counties move more quickly into a less restrictive tier, as part of the state's reopening framework, which also looks at adjusted case rates. Larger counties will need to ensure that test positivity rates in its most disadvantaged neighborhoods do not significantly lag behind its overall count.

"We should be very proud of our public health leadership in Santa Clara County for being proactive and for recognizing these health disparities early on, and helping focus some of their efforts on these communities," said Winslow.

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The new measure is believed to be the first of its kind in the country. Health equity experts say it's an innovative approach to controlling the pandemic.

"My hope is that it really can give us a coordinated system, systematic, accountable way to open the economy quicker and safer," said Dr. Sergio Aguilar-Gaxiola, director of Center for Reducing Health Disparities at UC Davis Health.

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