A new state requirement announced last week requires counties to prioritize battling the COVID-19 pandemic in low-income areas before they can further reopen.

The requirement, called the “equity metric,” is part of the state’s Blueprint for a Safer Economy plan that has been dictating reopening. It went into effect on Tuesday and now requires counties to get their case metrics down in the hardest hit neighborhoods before more businesses and sectors can reopen. San Mateo County Health Chief Lousie Rogers said current county numbers exceed the case and positivity rates needed to move to a less restrictive “orange” tier this week.

The new metric is based on the California Healthy Places Index, a measure that uses 25 weighted indicators to evaluate an area’s health conditions based on economic, education, housing, environmental and other factors.

With the addition of the third metric, before advancing within the reopening tiers, counties must now hit case rate and positivity rate targets not just as a countywide average, but also more specifically in the areas of the county that are in the index’s lowest 25th percentile.

Rogers said economic factors are the most influential in the index, meaning that the lowest-ranked areas highlighted by the HPI closely align with the county’s lowest income neighborhoods. These targeted neighborhoods span 35 census tracts, including areas in Daly City, South San Francisco, Redwood City, San Mateo, East Palo Alto and on the Coastside.

This week, the positivity rate for these low-income neighborhoods is 7 percent, as compared to the countywide average of 3.7 percent. To move to the “orange” tier and further reopen the county, both rates would have to remain under 5.25 percent for two consecutive weeks.

“This is an ambitious goal because the roots of the disparities run deep,” Rogers said.

Rogers said that the county’s testing, contact tracing, isolation support and communications strategies are focused on targeting low-income and disadvantaged areas, where the virus has hit the hardest, and are expanding. As of Tuesday, the county was reporting a total of 10,309 cases and 154 deaths as a result of COVID-19, which is affecting low-income and people of color disproportionately.

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