California Gov. Newsom provided a sobering update on the COVID-19 pandemic Monday, announcing 40 counties are moving back in the state’s reopening plan as cases have doubled in the past 10 days. Some counties regressed multiple tiers.
“We are sounding the alarm,” Newsom said in a statement. “California is experiencing the fastest increase in cases we have seen yet — faster than what we experienced at the outset of the pandemic or even this summer. The spread of COVID-19, if left unchecked, could quickly overwhelm our health care system and lead to catastrophic outcomes.”
As of Monday, there are now 41 counties across the state in the most restrictive purple tier, compared to only nine counties three weeks ago. In the purple tier, many non-essential indoor businesses aren’t allowed to operate.
In the Bay Area, San Francisco jumped from the least restrictive yellow tier to red. San Mateo and Marin counties are also in the red and all other counties are purple.
The state typically announces changes to the tier system on Tuesdays, but is making the changes early due to surging cases. Moving forward, Newsom said tier changes will be made as needed.
The state’s system sorts counties into four tiers — “purple” (widespread), “red” (substantial), “orange” (moderate) or “yellow” (minimal) — that measure the spread of COVID-19 and dictate what types of businesses and activities are allowed to open. The structure allows counties to be more restrictive and move more slowly than the state in its reopening if they wish.
The county tier status is based on the number of new cases per 100,000 residents and the adjusted positivity rate. Last month, the state announced it’s now also taking into account an equity metric to address the fact that low-income, Latino, Black and Pacific Islander communities have been disproportionately impacted.
Counties in the purple category are reporting more than seven new daily cases per 100,000 residents and have positivity rates above 8%. For a county to move into the red tier, it must report fewer than seven daily cases per 100,000 residents and a test positivity under 8% for 14 consecutive days. The orange tier requires fewer than 3.9 cases per 100,000 and a test positivity under 4.9% and the yellow less than one case per 100,000 and lower than 2% positivity.
In the past, a county moved backward by failing to meet the criteria for two consecutive weeks, but Newsom announced Monday counties will now move back into a more restrictive reopening tier after 1 week of data that doesn’t meet standards for being in a lower tier.
The state is now requiring counties that move back to close required businesses sectors within 24 hours, rather than three days.
The troubling rise in cases in November has come at a faster pace than a spike in mid-June and could quickly surpass the peak of the hospitalizations at the time, health officials have said. The state became the second in the U.S. last week to surpass 1 million case of the virus as the U.S. has now recorded more than 11 million cases.
The new rules are certain to rankle business owners such as restaurateurs and gym owners who have been struggling to get back on their feet after lengthy shutdowns followed by reopenings that have at times been curtailed as cases have risen.
The state has blamed the spike in cases mainly on people who have grown fatigued coping with the virus and have ignored public health warnings to not socialize with friends and family members. Those warnings have been more forceful in advance of Thanksgiving next week.
Businesses have complained that they have played by the rules yet had to pay the price for residents who didn’t do so.
Newsom himself has faced blowback after failing to follow his own rules by attending a friend’s birthday party at the opulent French Laundry restaurant in wine country north of San Francisco.
Newsom said Monday attending the party was a mistake and more people were at the event than he expected.
“I need to preach and practice,” he said. We’re all human. We all fall short sometimes. I shouldn’t have been there. I should have turned back around. You got to pay the price. You have to own it. This isn’t a practice I’ve indulged in in the past.”
Newsom and the governors of Oregon and Washington on Friday issued a travel advisory urging their residents to avoid non-essential travel and to quarantine for two weeks after arriving on the West Coast from another state or country.
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