Red-tier status offers glimmers of normalcy for two Bay Area counties

Sunday is a red letter day for two more Bay Area counties: Sonoma and Contra Costa.

Starting at midnight, they are cleared to enter the state's red tier, allowing more permissive activities and interactions.

"It's that glimmer of hope, telling people we're moving in the right direction, good job everybody, let's keep it going," said Concord Mayor Tim McGallian, surveying the Friday night scene at Todos Santos Plaza downtown. 

"It is already bustling and you add more re-openings to this place, we're going to start seeing a lot more people really excited to be out," said McGallian.

"Psychologically we know that this is huge." .

Every other Bay Area county has already made the shift to red: allowing gyms, dance studios museums, and college lectures to rsume indoors with restrictions.

Shopping malls and retail stores may increase their capacity and grocery stores may operate at full occupancy.

"We get so many phone calls every single day, people want to eat indoors, and we want to make it happen," said Heather Kawalkowski, General Manager of The Old Spaghetti Factory on Concord's plaza.

Kawalkowski and her staff are busy preparing to resume indoor dining.

The restaurant has interior seating for 320, so will be able to accommodate 80 guests inside. 

Adding 100 more on the patio, it is enough business to bring the staff of 51 back to work.

But Kalalkowski acknowledges some smaller eateries won't be able to swing it economically.

"We want everybody to be able to come back, because it's jobs and it's our community, absolutely."

McGallian says Concord is already looking beyond the red tier and working intensively to support and save teetering businesses.

"When we truly are open, we need stores that are ready to be open too and not just shuttered storefronts." 

Sonoma and Contra Costa are among 13 counties elevating to the next tier, in part because of a re-worked formula that factored in vaccination in underserved communities.

Case numbers have also fallen dramatically. . 

"At one point we were at 55 positives per hundred thousand people per day and now we're around 8, so we've made really significant progress," said Kim McCall, communications officer for the Contra Costa County Public Health Dept.  

Health officials continue to stress the importance of masks, hand-washing, and social distance.

"We're all feeling a sense of relief and as people get vaccinated they can do more things like hug their grandchildren," said McCall, "but we need to be cautious because the last thing we want to see is the numbers go back up again." 

Another glimmer of normalcy across the Bay Area this weekend: high school football.

It is a soft start and very late, but teams competed Friday night, with more match-ups scheduled Saturday.

In Oakley, Campolindo met Freedom High, and both players and parents relished being back under Friday night lights.

"It's great to be back and they've been so excited, I don't think they slept or ate all week," said Kim Tobin, watching her son play.

"I'm just happy to see him happy."

The schedule only includes about a half-dozen games through mid-April, with Covid-related cancellation always a threat.  

But at least it is a chance to play.

"I love seeing my baby out on the field for his last year, and he's our only child," said mom Latisa Baldwin. "It's great to see him and all his friends out here having a blast."