Santa Clara, San Francisco counties expect to enter orange tier within days

Santa Clara County and San Francisco County are expecting to join San Mateo County and move into the orange tier next week, as COVID-19 cases continue to trend downward.

As of Sunday, Santa Clara County had a 1.2 percent positivity rate and San Francisco County was at 0.9 percent, both slightly lower than the statewide rate of 1.8 percent. 

The California Department of Public Health will provide an update on Tuesday, and determine if the counties are ready to enter the orange tier.

Santa Clara County public health officials say the tier change is likely.

In downtown Los Altos, Amy Madsen runs a tasting room for wine lovers to sip on glasses of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir from Byington, the winery she and her husband own, using grapes from their vineyards in the Santa Cruz Mountains and Sonoma. 

Operating under Santa Clara County's purple and red tiers, she's only been able to sell bottles from the tasting room, not offer any indoor tastings. 

"It certainly has been difficult, but we're excited to get to the next level," Madsen said. 

The next level, the orange tier, would allow wineries, breweries, and distilleries to welcome guests indoors at 25 percent capacity. That would allow Madsen to seat 12 guests in the tasting room for a full wine tasting experience.

"There's no denying it's been a really difficult time for everyone, and certainly for the wine industry," Madsen said. Byington Vineyards lost its 2020 pinot crop due to smoke taint in the Santa Cruz mountains, and recurring evacuations due to fires in recent years have hurt profits too.
Once in the orange tier, restaurants and retailers can expand to 50 percent capacity, which brings a boost to other shopkeepers in the area too.

"It definitely trickles into our business," Madsen said of the downtown Los Altos tasting room and wine shop.

Offices can bring non-essential workers back as well, in limited numbers. While the state does not specify how limited offices should be, San Francisco is allowing companies in the city to return to the office at 25 percent capacity.

"It is dizzying, the pace at which we are reopening, but I think it's in step with what we're seeing in terms of numbers," Dr. Peter Chin-Hong, professor of medicine and an infectious disease specialist at UCSF said.

Chin-Hong credits the vaccine rollout and people following the mask and social distancing mandates for the rapid progression from purple to orange tier, but cautions that because fewer people are getting tested for COVID-19, the actual number of Coronavirus cases might be slightly higher than counties are able to report.

"Be cautious and pause," Chin-Hong said. "I'm celebrating, but I'm also celebrating calmly."