New test results from the Coastside show a rise in COVID-19 cases in Pescadero, raising alarm on the South Coast. But county officials are optimistic as testing expands, potentially to Half Moon Bay, and case metrics improve overall.

For the past four months, the county’s case number for Pescadero was stagnant at under 10 cases. Then, last week, that number jumped to 13. So Puente de la Costa Sur Executive Director Rita Mancera called in the county to conduct an additional 100 tests, which uncovered five more positive cases. Mancera said results from a new round of tests conducted Tuesday could come as early as today.

“Those numbers are a concern,” Mancera said. “We want to get right in front of any potential outbreak.”

Despite increasing numbers on the South Coast, County Manager Mike Callagy said, countywide, the numbers are improving. The first week of September, the county showed a 6.0 adjusted case rate and a 4.1 percent positivity rate that put it in the “red” tier. That is less restrictive than the current “purple” tier falls in today. If results from the week of Sept. 7 hold at this lower rate, the county may be able to move to the “red” tier before the end of the month. This would allow additional businesses to reopen indoors, and, if it remains in the red for 14 days, schools to reopen as well.

Also last week, Callagy announced the county is implementing a new strategy, which includes working with the city of Half Moon Bay and other municipalities to establish permanent local testing sites.

Now that the state of California has lifted its restrictions on testing, which had previously capped testing at 500 per day, Callagy said his goal is to provide as many tests as possible. Officials want to track the spread of the disease more effectively and also to give the county the extra points it needs to move through the state’s tier system and reopen additional parts of the economy.

In the South Coast, the case increase is affecting local schools. On Tuesday, La Honda-Pescadero Unified School District Superintendent Amy Wooliever closed the district’s remote learning centers, which have been providing internet and a quiet workspace for students learning remotely. The case rise also prompted her to delay recommending that local elementary schools work to get a waiver approved to open for kindergarten.

“We just don't know enough right now about where the infections are coming from,” Wooliever said.

It’s not clear if the new cases are related to evacuations over the past month due to the CZU August Lightning Complex fire. Mancera said her biggest worry remains that the virus will reach farmworking communities, where crowded housing conditions could accelerate the spread and isolation is difficult.

She said although many residents are now taking the virus more seriously, some barriers remain.

“This pandemic is not going away,” Mancera said. “We need to find ways to make it work for everyone.”

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