State allows Santa Clara, Santa Cruz counties to reopen more businesses

Five California counties were moved into a better spot on California's coronavirus watchlist, which means they have more freedom to reopen some businesses as long as they follow strict rules. 

Santa Clara, Santa Cruz Amador, Orange, and Placer counties all moved into the "red" tier, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced Tuesday. 

Napa County was already on the list, as were eight other counties in the northeastern part of the state.

Being in the red tier means that with certain modifications, appliance repair shops, aquariums, bookstores, childcare centers, outdoor family entertainment centers, indoor hair salons, and gyms operating at 10% capacity can reopen, as some examples.

In Santa Clara County, officials said gatherings, movie theaters, and indoor dining are not yet allowed.

The county's COVID-19 Testing Officer Dr. Marty Fenstersheib stresses the region was able to move into the red tier because it's conducting about 7,000 tests a day.

"COVID-19 is still here. It hasn't gone away. The fact that we've moved into the red tier at this point doesn't change the fact that we still have to be vigilant," said Dr. Fenstersheib.

If Santa Clara County remains in the red tier for 14 days, K-12th grade classes can resume for in-person instruction. However, it will be up to each individual school district to decide when classrooms reopen.

They would also have to adhere to safety guidelines outlined by the county which include a variety of measures for different grades including wearing masks and social distancing.

"Especially in the context of the significant volume of activity that opening schools may bring, it's all the more important that we remain really vigilant and on top of trying to keep case counts locally as low as possible," said James Williams, County Counsel for Santa Clara County.

Marin County was supposed to have moved into the red zone, but officials received word late Monday night that they hadn't met the right criteria. 

This last-minute decision will lead to delayed business reopening planned for Tier 2, including: indoor personal care services; indoor dining; indoor gyms; movie theaters; indoor houses of worship; and expanded capacity at indoor retail establishments and malls.

Marin County officials said the decision came after the state reanalyzed its data and applied a new method for determining a county’s position on the four-tiered monitoring framework, the county said. The new approach includes a different timeframe for calculating a county’s case rate and a new adjustment for counties testing more than the state average, which the health department plans to introduce this week.

In Santa Clara County, officials said indoor dining, gatherings and movie gatherings -movie theaters -dining

At a news conference Tuesday, Dr. Mark Ghaly said state officials had conversations with Marin County over the weekend but he did not elaborate much on what changed. 

Recently, Newsom announced a new four-tiered, color-coded system for counties based on its coronavirus test positivity and adjusted case rate. At a minimum, counties must remain in a tier for at least three weeks before moving forward. 

To move forward, a county must meet the next tier’s criteria for two consecutive weeks. If a county’s metrics worsen for two consecutive weeks, it will be assigned a more restrictive tier. 

The tiers range from widespread to minimal.

Most of the state is in the widespread zone, which means counties are seeing more than 7 new cases per 100,000 people a day and has a positivity rate of 8% or greater. In these counties, most non-essential indoor businesses are closed. 

Only two counties, Modoc and Alpine, are in the minimal zone, which means they have less than 1 new coronavirus case out of 100,000 people a day and a positivity rate of less than 2%. Most indoor businesses are open, as long as owners make the proper modifications. 

Announcements on whether counties will move to a new tier will be made each Tuesday. 

This story was reported from Oakland, Calif.