Marin County remains out of the Purple Tier, but experts warn that could change quickly

While the rest of the Bay Area has fallen to the strictest "Purple Tier" on the state's coronavirus blueprint for reopening the economy, only Marin County is still keeping its head above water. It's one step below the "Purple Tier", in the "Red Tier."

But health officials here are not high-fiving each other over it.

"That is faint praise. We are doing less poorly than the others. But we were in the Orange Tier just a couple of weeks ago," says Marin County Public Health Officer Dr. Matt Willis.

But Willis does point to a mixture of health directives and messaging that have helped keep cases lower than the rest of the Bay Area.

He credits an education campaign flooding the predominantly Latino Canal District in San Rafael with messages about the importance of wearing masks. The number of COVID-19 cases in that community has dropped.

Marin also has about 70% of its students attending school in-person.

"Marin is an example where if you do it in a certain way and work with the school community, you can open safely and not lead to surges. We haven't seen outbreaks in the schools," Willis says.

There have been difficult decisions made to eliminate indoor dining at all restaurants, including Finnegan's in downtown Novato. Just weeks ago, restaurants could serve inside at 50% capacity.

"Now it feels if we were able to go inside I think there's definite pushback from the customers and the people living here to do so," says owner Henry Hautau.

UC Berkeley infectious disease specialist Dr. John Swartzberg says Marin just may be luckier than other counties, much like a wildfire that destroys one neighborhood but not another.

"Frankly, I don't see anything about Marin County that is exceptional that is going to portend them being out of the woods for a long time," he says.

Marin County has seen its COVID-19 cases triple from a low of about 10 per day in October to about 30 cases currently. 40 a day is a ticket to the purple tier.

"If we continue at the rate we are increasing, here in Marin, we will be joining those in the purple tier probably a week or two weeks from now," Willis says.