On Friday, Governor Gavin Newsom announced another new set of guidelines for re-opening counties in California, replacing the state COVID-19 watchlist system.
The new four-tier system
The new four-tier system will include four color-coded tiers:
Purple (widespread), Red (substantial), Orange (moderate), and Yellow (minimal). Instead of varying metrics and factors between counties, only two metrics will be used to move states up or down tier levels: daily new COVID-19 case rates and positivity rates.
The Governor stressed that the new system is designed to be slow and gradual, with the new rules for county movement reflecting that. To move, counties need a 21-day waiting period to make sure that case rates and positivity rates stay down. Counties will also have to meet metrics for next tier for 2 weeks, will only be allowed to move one tier at a time, and will be assessed weekly.
Counties can move back if they fail to meet new rates for 2 weeks, or if an ’emergency brake’ is required in special cases, like hospitals being overwhelmed in a certain county.
“For the last few weeks we’ve been previewing that we’ve wanted to make adjustments based upon input we’ve received from county health officers, input we’ve received from experts, our own experience here in California adjusting the old frameworks and monitoring the list to a more dynamic list,” said Governor Newsom on Friday. “We hope that it’s more simple to understand. We need the new list to be statewide, simple, slow, and stringent. These are the guidelines we’re advancing.
“There are four tiers, not 58 county variations. The metrics we’re using give us a leading indicator on how things are taking shape in a particular part of the state. Namely case rates and test positivity rates. These are the new metrics to give movement in these tiers, as well as a small health equity consideration that will focus on vulnerable workers and vulnerable communities, and low income workers. We don’t want to see people game these numbers.”
Reopenings and reclosings
The Governor then went on to explain how the states’ counties stand as of today: 38 counties will be starting in the purple tier, including all SoCal Counties except San Diego and most Bay Area Counties. Only 3 counties at this time are yellow.
87% of the population of California are currently living in purple counties.
“There’s no green level because we don’t believe that there’s a green light to bring us back to the way things were or back to a pre-pandemic mindset,” joked the Governor. “Quite the contrary.”
NEW: California is launching a Blueprint for a Safer Economy.
Your county will be assigned a color based on:
– Case rate
– Positivity rate
Your color determines how businesses can operate in your county.
— Gavin Newsom (@GavinNewsom) August 28, 2020
While the new guidelines will give the state more power in opening and reopening counties, stricter county measures, such as more stringent store and restaurant reopening rules, will be observed. However, any current county policy on being laxer with the guidelines than what the new rules state will not be allowed.
Specific industries have across the board reopening guidelines as well, such as restaurant reopenings. While purple only allows for outdoor dining, red will allow 25% capacity indoor dining, gradually moving to full service dining with COVID-19 precautions on the yellow tier.
A new system that doesn’t take everything under consideration for reopening
Early reaction to the new tiers has been mixed. While many counties and business organizations have welcomed a more simple list of tier openings, many others have said that each county has specific challenges and needs that the new system doesn’t take into.
“This new tier system doesn’t answer everything,” said Brian Seaver, a lawyer who has represented many businesses trying to reopen, in a Globe interview. “If anything, it’s not taking into account specific county needs or allowing for different ways businesses are set up and run in urban, suburban, and rural areas.”
“I’m glad it’s easier to understand, but entire counties, most of which have a hodgepodge of urban, suburban, and rural areas, now have to uniformly follow this. They’re not taking into account large counties and are focusing on smaller counties. Few counties are like entirely urban San Francisco, but the new system is set up to treat every county like it.”
“A lot of business leaders told me they’d rather have counties decide on reopening based on different areas, because rates are drastically different between different places, and that can mean life or death for businesses if they have to follow these new guidelines and remain closed even though rates are very low in their big chunk of the county.”
“It’s simplified and slower, but it also means a longer time to help some of these businesses.”
The new tier system went into place in California on Friday. The first county tier movements, as well as tweaks to the system based on raised concerns from counties, cities, and businesses, are expected within two to three weeks, the minimum time allotted for county movements stated in the new guidelines.
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