Riverside County will move into a less-restrictive tier in the state’s coronavirus reopening framework, a shift that allows more businesses to reopen and loosens restrictions on others as the county’s COVID-19 metrics improved, county officials said Tuesday morning, Sept. 22.
Dr. Cameron Kaiser, the county’s public health officer, confirmed the county’s move into the red tier during the Riverside County Board of Supervisors meeting.
The county had been in the purple, or most restrictive tier, of the Blueprint for a Safer Economy, California’s color-coded, four-tier system that allows different levels of reopening based on a county’s positivity rate — the rate at which COVID-19 tests come back positive — and its rate of new coronavirus cases.
To move to the red tier a county must have seven or less new cases per day per 100,000 residents, and a test positivity rate of 8% or less.
That criteria must be met for two consecutive weeks before a county may move.
San Bernardino County met the criteria for the first of those two weeks on Tuesday, with a new-case-per-day rate of 6.7 and a test positivity rate of 5.7%. It could move into the red tier on Tuesday, Sept. 29, if it continues to meet the criteria.
The state adjusts the case rate up if a county tests less than the state average, and down if a county tests more than the average.
Red-tier status allows gyms, places of worship, restaurants and movie theaters to resume limited indoor operations. Many churches and eateries had moved outdoors, sometimes meeting and serving food under tents.
Many Riverside County cities have tried to help businesses weather the closures by allowing them to serve customers outside on sidewalks and even in the street, where the risk of infection, experts say, is far less than inside buildings.
The Riverside City Council recently opened a way for gyms and churches to exercise and worship in city parks.
With the change, eateries may offer indoor dining, but are limited to accommodating 25% as many patrons as their buildings can hold, or 100 people, whichever is fewer.
Similarly, houses of worship can return to indoor services and movie theaters can begin showing films with a maximum attendance equal to 25% of their capacity, or 100 people, whichever is fewer.
Gyms and fitness centers may reopen under the red tier rules, too. However, their buildings may be filled only to 10% of capacity.
Rikki Hubbard, owner of T3 Fitness in Riverside, was anticipating the move to the red tier. Her studio on Brockton Avenue, which specializes in group fitness for women, reopened Tuesday.
Hubbard said she has been providing workouts for women at nearby Shamel Park, after the Riverside City Council decided to let gyms and fitness centers use parks. That will continue, she said.
“We are continuing to offer outdoor classes for those who don’t feel safe coming indoors just yet,” she said.
Customers still will be able to exercise in homes via video technology that connects them with classes, Hubbard said.
But, she said, “we are definitely excited to welcome our women back into our space,” she said.
Religious worship also is moving back indoors.
John Andrews, a spokesman for the Diocese of San Bernardino, which serves Riverside and San Bernardino counties, said a number of parishes in Riverside County likely will provide Masses inside their churches this coming weekend.
Diocese officials are hopeful that San Bernardino County parishes will be able to join them soon, Andrews said.
“Bishop (Gerald) Barnes has said that, even if the Riverside County churches can open sooner, he’s OK with that,” Andrews said.
However, for now, Riverside’s main downtown library and seven city branch libraries will remain closed for indoor services, city spokesman Phil Pitchford said.
Libraries will continue offering curbside service, along with expanded digital offerings and programs for students, Pitchford said.
And, in two weeks, schools in Riverside County could begin to reopen campuses for the first time since March if the county remains in the red tier.
The shift to the red tier means that the county’s coronavirus risk level is considered “substantial” rather than “widespread.”
Staff writer Jennifer Iyer contributed to this report.
This is a developing story. Check back for updates.