Both Alameda and Santa Clara County moved into the state's "orange" tier status for pandemic reopening, joining San Francisco in the second-least severe group of counties with only "moderate" virus spread. But neither county will be adopting all of the state's guidelines for "orange" tier counties, opting instead to take a slower approach to avoid another virus spike.
Santa Clara County says it will allow restaurants to reopen at 25-percent capacity indoors beginning on Wednesday, October 14, and will otherwise allow most of the other types of businesses to reopen under "orange"-level guidelines. As KPIX reports, places of worship, like restaurants, will have to stick to more restrictive measures and just 25-percent capacity or 100 parishioners indoors, whichever is fewer.
The "orange" tier indicates positivity rates of between 2 and 4.9 percent, and fewer than 5 overall new cases per day per 100,000 residents — this figure is adjusted based on testing prevalence and availability in a county.
"We ask that everyone continue their efforts to prevent COVID-19 from spreading in our county,” said Dr. Sara Cody, Santa Clara County's Health Officer, adding that the county is now the most populous in the state to move into the "orange" tier. "Everyone must take responsibility for preventing spread so that we don’t move back to more restrictive tiers under the State’s structure."
Outdoor gatherings of up to 200 people will also now be permitted in Santa Clara County.
San Francisco entered the "orange" tier on September 29, but like Santa Clara County it is maintaining stricter limits on indoor business activities than the new status would allow. The city's Department of Public Health and its director Dr. Grant Colfax have maintained that the city needs to be more cautious than less dense counties, despite new COVID cases dipping back down to daily levels not seen since May and June.
As of last week, San Francisco allowed movie theaters to reopen with restrictions and limited capacity, but officials ordered the theaters to keep their concession stands closed and prohibit moviegoers from bringing in food or drink — in order to prevent people from sitting indoors with their masks off. As a result of this rule, most of the theaters in the city remain closed because they say they rely on concession sales to pay the bills.
Alameda County is remaining stricter still, and after reopening some more types of businesses last week, it will keep banning indoor dining for another two weeks. As the SF Business Times explains, Alameda County will permit indoor restaurant spaces to open at 25-percent capacity (or 100 people, whichever is fewer) beginning on October 26. Movie theaters and places of worship will also be allowed open at that time at 25-percent capacity, and retail stores and malls will be able to open at 50-percent capacity.
As Governor Gavin Newsom announced last week, counties now have to meet a third metric beyond daily cases and positivity rates in order to progress to a new tier. This new equity requirement asks that counties show that positivity rates are declining in minority and low-income neighborhoods where the virus has tended to be the most prevalent. As of this week, Alameda and Santa Clara counties met this criteria, while San Francisco, Contra Costa, and San Mateo counties did not. Without meeting this metric, San Francisco won't be able to progress to the lowest possible tier, the "yellow" tier, indicating "minimal" virus spread.
Once reaching that tier, restaurants in SF may be able to open at 50-percent capacity, though the city has not made any promises.