Seven of the nine Bay Area counties have achieved red status in the state’s color-coded blueprint for reopening after Alameda, San Mateo and Solano counties improved from the highest-risk purple category Tuesday morning.
Those three counties may now join much of the region in loosening coronavirus-related restrictions on businesses, though Alameda County officials said there would be no changes for at least two weeks.
The progress in keeping the coronavirus pandemic in check that prompted the change in the region’s status could bring some revival in economic activity, particularly in the hard-hit restaurant and personal service sectors. While employment has improved in the Bay Area recently, new jobless claims remain high in California, accounting for an outsized share of national claims for unemployment benefits. Many businesses are struggling under strict shelter-in-place rules, even with accommodations made for outdoor operations.
Moving into the red tier allows the return of indoor dining, which has been absent for most of the last six months throughout the Bay Area, at 25% capacity. Gyms can open indoors at 10% capacity, movie theaters can open at 25% capacity, and malls and indoor retail can increase their caps on customers to 50% from 25%. Personal care businesses such as nail salons, barbershops, and waxing services can open indoors with modifications.
That leaves just Contra Costa and Sonoma counties on the most restrictive purple tier, each with more than seven new cases daily for every 100,000 residents and positive test rates hovering around 5%.
San Francisco remained on red status, a decision county health officials opposed in a formal request to the state public health department. Officials requested that the state reevaluate the city’s coronavirus data, which had appeared consistently low enough to merit a move to the orange tier.
San Mateo County immediately moved to adopt less restrictive guidelines for certain businesses allowed in the red category. Officials in Alameda County took a more cautious approach, halting changes for the next two weeks as they monitor cases. Solano County’s website said “certain businesses can now reopen,” directing visitors to the state’s website.
Under the streamlined tier system, each county is given a color representing its coronavirus risk level: Purple stands for widespread risk, red for substantial risk, orange for moderate and yellow for minimal. Each progressive level comes with fewer restrictions on businesses. Counties can be stricter than their state tier, but not more permissive.
To progress to the next less restrictive level, a county’s numbers must remain stable for a minimum of three weeks and meet the next tier’s more stringent requirements for two consecutive weeks.
That two-week window is necessary to chart the virus’ trend within a given county and to give contact tracing time to work, state Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly said at a press conference Tuesday.
With just 2.4% of tests coming back positive, San Francisco’s case numbers had appeared to meet the state’s criteria for the less-restrictive orange status, but the city will remain on red for now. Ghaly did not detail his agency’s decision-making process except to say that conversations about the city’s coronavirus metrics are ongoing.
Moving to the orange reopening tier would have paved the way for indoor dining in San Francisco, a requirement set by local officials that is stricter than state rules. Mayor London Breed said last week she anticipated reaching orange status by the end of the month.
The city will move ahead with its planned loosening of restrictions on religious gatherings, however, with the goal of reaching 25% operating capacity at places of worship by Oct. 1, officials said. That matches what the state allows for the red tier.
Each county’s ranking in the color-coded system is governed by two critical factors: coronavirus case rates and positive test rates. The case rate calculations are adjusted to reflect testing volume, meaning areas with high testing, such as San Francisco, receive a modest boost.
The color-coded system was intended to streamline the reopening process when it was rolled out late last month. By focusing on just two metrics—case rates and the rate of positive tests — the tiered rankings replaced a convoluted 58-factor checklist.
Alameda County, like San Francisco, is exercising its prerogative to maintain stricter rules. It said Tuesday that it would not make any changes in response to its new red status, effectively pressing the pause button on reopening efforts.
“We are using the next two weeks to ensure our metrics remain stable,” the county said, adding that it will release a phased plan to roll out newly permitted activities.
Kim Hastings, 46, runs her waxing business at Phoenix Rising Salon, a hair salon in Montclair Village in Piedmont. She’s been closed since mid-March and is anxiously waiting to open her waxing services. Three weeks ago, Alameda County allowed hair salons to begin indoor operations, but personal care services such as waxing remain prohibited.
“I’ve worked so hard to build my business and I’ll be losing my clients to other Bay Area counties that are allowing this,” said Hastings. “I hope Alameda gives us the go-ahead.”
Alameda, the second-most populous Bay Area county, is the worst-hit in the region with 20,641 reported coronavirus cases as of Tuesday. Its reopening rules have been among the strictest.
Hastings’ revenue plummeted during the business closures. She’s been on unemployment benefits since July, often receiving financial help from friends and family. She wants to go back to work, especially since her colleagues who work with hair are allowed to do so.
“My workspace is white-glove ready. I have all the social distancing and safety protocols set up and I only work on one client at a time. I’m ready,” she said.
Nora Mishanec, Shwanika Narayan and Roland Li are San Francisco staff writers. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @NMishanec, @Shwanika, @rolandlisf