10 California counties see restrictions eased, risks remain

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Ten California counties were cleared to ease coronavirus restrictions Tuesday, including some in the Central Valley that saw major case spikes over the summer, but the state’s top health official warned that upcoming Halloween celebrations pose a risk for renewed spread.

Dr. Mark Ghaly, the state health secretary, said no counties moved backwards in California’s color-coded, four-tiered system for reopening, but Riverside was on the verge of reverting to the most restrictive purple tier. The county of about 2.5 million residents has asked for a review of its data and will stay in the red tier until the state makes a decision on its status later this week.

“Moving back a tier is important,” Ghaly said. “We don’t want to do it without a significant degree of conversation and understanding.”

Riverside County Public Health Officer Dr. Cameron Kaiser said the county hopes to persuade the state that it can maintain its current status while still slowing the spread of the virus. A slip back to the purple tier would adversely affect small businesses like restaurants and gyms, which could be forced to shut down indoor operations again, the county said in a statement.

Two San Francisco Bay Area counties, Alameda and Santa Clara, will advance to the less-restrictive orange tier, which allows for increased capacity at restaurants, movie theaters and houses of worship — all with modifications to require face coverings.

The lifting of some restrictions in counties that have shown improvement comes as California sees a continued drop in COVID-19 cases. The seven-day positivity rate was down to 2.7%, Ghaly said. The number of hospitalizations is about 2,225 — a significant drop from a peak of around 7,000 over the summer, he said.

Ghaly said overall trends are moving in the right direction, thanks in part to Californians’ increased willingness to wear masks and avoid large gatherings.

“The more that that becomes widespread around the community, we’re going to see these numbers stabilize and come down,” Ghaly said.

But he added “we’re not out of the woods, and we’re seeing a number of increases across the country, and across the world in terms of cases, hospitalizations, and deaths.”

Officials are urging families to skip trick-or-treating this Halloween and instead have costume contests and pumpkin carvings online.

“The whole act of going door-to-door in groups ringing doorbells, digging into buckets of delicious candy, create a risk of spreading spreading COVID-19,” Ghaly said. But he stressed that it was a recommendation, not a rule, and trick-or-treaters will not see any enforcement.

California on Friday night also eased restrictions to allow up to three households to socialize outdoors, an expansion of rules aimed at people tempted to have even larger gatherings around Halloween, Thanksgiving and end-of-year holidays.

Meanwhile Tuesday, Fresno County stayed in the red tier and four other counties in the central part of the state — Kern, Colusa, Sutter and Stanislaus — advanced from purple to red. Those improvements were particularly gratifying after those counties experienced

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Eight Counties Move Into Reopening Tiers

CALIFORNIA — Eight counties were downgraded into lower tiers of the Golden State’s risk assessing COVID-19 blueprint Tuesday, and will be allowed to reopen and expand some businesses. The state also reported a 2.7 percent positivity rate for two consecutive weeks weeks.

While the positivity rate has remained low over the past month, Dr. Mark Ghaly, the California Health Secretary, noted that cases have plateaued. While average cases per day were dropping steadily in months past, the numbers have stabilized in October.

As of Tuesday, less than 20 counties remain in the state’s most restrictive and widespread indicating tier, Ghaly said. Only a month ago, nearly 40 counties were living under purple tier restrictions.

Last week, Ghaly introduced the state’s new equity metric, which was added as a benchmark for the state’s largest counties to meet before advancing through the blueprint’s tiers. Counties will not be able to reopen further unless they reduce transmissions in marginalized communities.

READ MORE: CA’s Coronavirus ‘Equity Metric’ Could Impact Reopening Timeline

This measure could potentially slow reopenings or help push counties through the tier system depending on how widespread cases are in that particular county’s most “disadvantaged” neighborhoods.

(California Department Of Public Health)
(California Department Of Public Health)

Counties that advanced to lower tiers on California’s blueprint Tuesday:

Tehama County moved back into the widespread tier and Shasta County moved back into the substantial tier after experiencing a spike in cases. Ghaly said that the state was working with these two counties.

Three counties, Merced, Ventura and Yuba, dropped into the red or substantial tier, and out of the purple or widespread tier.

Counties that remain in the red tier for two weeks may consider reopening schools for in-person instruction, pending approval from the region’s health department.

Under the red tier, restaurants are allowed to resume indoor dining at 25 percent capacity and so will personal services such as nail salons and aestheticians, museums, zoos and movie theaters. Gyms and fitness centers will reopen indoors at 10 percent of their capacity.

One new county, Inyo, was able to move into the orange or moderate tier.

This tier allows bars to serve drinks without meals outdoors, schools to reopen fully for in-person classes and movie theaters to reopen at limited capacity. Restaurants may open indoors at 50 percent capacity or host 200 people — whichever is fewer.

Four counties, Humboldt, Plumas, Siskiyou and Trinity, were able to move into the yellow or minimal tier. The yellow tier is the last tier on the blueprint and Ghaly noted that he and Gov. Gavin Newsom have yet to release guidance on what happens after the yellow tier.

Within this tier, restaurants bars can open indoors at 50 percent capacity, schools may fully reopen and fitness centers may reopen at 50 percent capacity.

Ghaly also noted that Humboldt County has continued to see a decrease in cases.

This article originally appeared on the Across California Patch

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