Bay Area guide to COVID-19 rules: What each county allows

In the late summer as coronavirus case numbers improved, the Bay Area again began lifting COVID-19 restrictions and attempting another reopening.

The changes took place as California redesigned its system for tracking the pandemic in each county. The so-called county watch list is gone. In its place is a color-coded tier system. There are purple, red, orange and yellow tiers. COVID-19 is "widespread" in purple counties. Red counties have a "substantial" outbreak. Orange has "moderate" cases while yellow have "minimal." 

In the Bay Area, on August 31, only Napa and San Francisco were in the red category. Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Solano and Sonoma counties were in the purple tier. 

Although Gov. Newsom touted the color rating as simpler to comprehend, many may still find it complicated. That's because even though the state grants specific permissions for each tier, counties may be more cautious than what is allowed. 

See below to find out each county's unique approach to reopening. 

For instance, counties on the purple tier may open indoor salons, but San Francisco and Sonoma counties were evaluating on August 31 whether to do so.

The Bay Area began tentatively emerging from the pandemic shutdown for a second time on August 28. That was when hair and nail salons, barbershops and other service businesses were allowed to begin operating outdoors in Alameda County. Swimmers may dive into outdoor swimming pools that obey certain guidelines. Contra Costa County started letting gyms invite members to work out outdoors and permitted hotels to open to the general public. 

As part of the flurry of changes, San Francisco announced that on September 1, salons, barbershops and gyms will be allowed to open outdoors with employees and customers wearing masks. 

With changes happening to the rules happening so frequently, there's confusion for residents trying to remember what's allowed and prohibited. 

Here's where the Bay Area stands as most of the state moves forward with varying reopening plans.

PURPLE TIER
Some indoor operations are allowed in purple counties.

Hair salons and barbershops that obey certain restrictions, such as mask requirements, can open indoors. So can malls and shops that reduce capacity to 25%. 

Personal care services, such as nail spas, can serve customers outdoors only with other restrictions.

Museums, places of worship movie theaters and gyms, can also only allow people to gather at outdoor facilities, likewise with modifications.

Restaurants, bars and breweries serving meals and wineries can serve customers outdoors by upholding some COVID-19 modifications. Bars, breweries and distilleries that don't serve meals must remain closed. 

Hotels can open with restrictions. 

RED TIER
Like purple counties, barbershops and hair salons are allowed to serve customers inside retail spaces. 

Malls and indoor shopping can operate at 50% of capacity with restrictions. Personal services can be open indoors too.

Museums and zoos may open indoor exhibits at a reduced capacity. Likewise, churches, temples and other places for religious worship can hold indoor services at reduced capacity.

Gyms and fitness centers can open with capacity limits. Restaurants and bars, breweries and distilleries that serve meals can open indoors with restrictions. Wineries can serve customers outside.

Bars that don't serve food must be closed.

Hotels can open with increased capacity. 

ORANGE TIER
Indoor salons and barbershops can open with modifications.

Indoor shopping and malls can open with restrictions. Food courts may open with restrictions. 

Personal care services can serve customers indoors too. 

Gyms, museums, houses of worship and movie theaters are open with increased capacity compared to the red tier. 

Likewise, restaurants and bars preparing food can serve customers indoors at increased capacity compared to the red tier. 

Wineries may open indoors with restrictions. 

Bars, breweries and distilleries that don't serve food can open outdoors. 

Some indoor gathering places, like bowling alleys, may open. 

Indoor salons and barbershops can open with modifications.

Indoor shopping and malls can open with restrictions. Food courts may open with restrictions. 

Personal care services can serve customers indoors too. 

Gyms, museums, houses of worship and movie theaters are open with increased capacity compared to the red tier. 

Likewise, restaurants and bars preparing food can serve customers indoors at increased capacity compared to the red tier. 

Wineries may open indoors with restrictions. 

Bars, breweries and distilleries that don't serve food can open outdoors. 

Some indoor gathering places, like bowling alleys, may open. Cardrooms may open outside with restrictions.

YELLOW TIER
The yellow tier has the most permissions, but many restrictions will still be in place. Hair salons and barbershops are open with restrictions as are indoor malls and other retail operations. 

Restrictions will be in place at indoor personal care facilities. Museums and zoos may open indoor exhibits too with limitations. 

Places of worship, movie theaters and gyms are open with higher capacity than the orange tier. 

Restaurants and bars and breweries serving food can be open indoors with increased capacity compared to the orange tier. Bars and breweries that don't serve food can serve customers al fresco with restrictions. 

Gathering places like bowling alleys are permitted to expand capacity compared to the orange tier. 

Cardrooms can open modified operations indoors.

Alameda County
TIER: Purple (widespread)

On Thursday, September 3, Alameda County announced indoor hair salons may open on Friday, September 4. Barbershops, hair salons and nail salons began reopening outdoors on Friday, August 28. The new county rules also cover skin care facilities and massage parlors while letting outdoor swimming pools open with a limited capacity.

Within Alameda County, the city of Fremont has stricter rules about face masks that mandate employees and customers wear them at all times while at an essential business, according to Eater

In early June, the county relaxed its shelter-in-place rule by allowing people to gather in "social bubbles." 

Contra Costa County
TIER: Purple (widespread)

More businesses in Contra Costa County were given the green light to reopen on September 16, even though it remains in the purple tier.

Personal care services, like facials and waxing, which involve close contact with the face, can operate outdoors.

The purple tier allowed Contra Costa county to reopen indoor hair salons and shopping malls on August 31. 

On August 28, gyms in the county got permission to reopen by letting members work out outdoors. On the same day, hotels began allowing the general public to book rooms. Previously, hotels could only welcome guests traveling for so-called essential business. 

Prior to that, a major update to the COVID-19 rules in Contra Costa County was on July 28 when officials authorized fines for violations of the public health orders. Individuals who don't wear face masks in many public situations or maintain social distance could be issued a citation. 

In an attempt to inhibit the spread of the virus. the county has enacted more stringent rules compelling people to face masks in almost all public settings, such as while dining outdoors at restaurants or gathered with other members of a "social bubble."

Marin County
TIER: Red (substantial)

Marin County announced on September 15, that the county successfully appealed to the California Department of Public Health to move into the red tier of the state's reopening blueprint. 

The primary changes now allowed in Marin County include indoor retail operations at 50% capacity and restaurants can offer dine-in service with 25% capacity. 

As officials began to emphasize the importance of face coverings in the fight against the virus, Marin County in July stipulated that face masks must be worn while inside a public space or waiting to enter a public space. 

The county has permitted smaller gatherings with guidelines for "social bubbles."

Officials in Marin had shown an interest in a gradual return to classrooms for students and teachers in the fall. Putting that plan into effect, however, cannot happen while the county is on the state watch list. In-person learning cannot happen until a county has been off the list for two weeks. 

Napa County
TIER: Red (substantial)

Napa County and San Francisco were the only parts of the Bay Area to start on the state's red tier. That means the county could let schools resume instruction in classrooms if they stay above the purple tier for 14 days.

Since mid-July, people in Napa County who go in public without covering their face may be fined $25 to $500. The penalties could also be imposed on people who hold public gatherings. Businesses also face penalties for failing to enforce facial covering requirements and other rules to limit the spread of the coronavirus. 

San Francisco County
TIER: Red (substantial)

By being in the red tier, San Francisco could soon be eligible to let schools open their classrooms again to students and teachers for in-person learning. 

On September 14, San Francisco moved forward in its reopening plan to allow gyms, barbershops, and hair and nail salons to reopen indoors. Some outdoor entertainment businesses like mini-golf, and bus and boat tours were also able to reopen. 

On September 1, San Francisco relaxed the rules that kept salons, barbershops, and massage parlors closed for months. Under the guidelines, they were allowed to open outdoors with customers and employees covering their faces. Although the state rules allowed these businesses to open indoors, San Francisco waited to move forward. 

The city's public school district announced the fall term would begin with students learning exclusively from home on August 17. It's possible that public schools will switch to a hybrid model in which students and teachers meet in classrooms in a limited capacity at some point, Superintendent Dr. Vincent Matthews said. 

Health officials gave restaurants the OK to begin outdoor dining services on Friday, June 12. In addition, businesses were invited to apply for the city’s Shared Spaces Program to use sidewalks, parking lanes, streets, or other nearby public spaces like parks and plazas for restaurant pick-up and outdoor dining. 

San Mateo County
TIER: Purple (widespread)

County supervisors voted on August 4 to impose fines on businesses and people that violate COIVD-19 rules, such as wearing face coverings in public. 

Santa Clara County
TIER: Red (substantial)

Santa Clara County transitioned into the red tier of the state's COVID-19 framework on September 8. 

Museums, zoos, aquariums were allowed to operate indoors at 25% capacity. Gyms and fitness centers were able to open indoors at 10% capacity

Hair salons and barbershops were previously allowed to open indoors with reduced capacity as of August 31st. Indoor dining, indoor movie theaters, and indoor gatherings remain prohibited under county health order

Face mask requirements have been stepped up in Santa Clara County. A mask or other covering must be worn when inside or waiting to enter a business, during face-to-face interactions and when people who do not live together cannot maintain social distancing. 

Solano County
TIER: Purple (widespread)

Sonoma County
TIER: Purple (widespread)

Sonoma is approaching the state's tier system with caution. Although it is allowed to open barbershops and salons indoors, it did not immediately implement that change.