Recognizing that the coronavirus will be in California for the foreseeable future, Gov. Gavin Newsom on Friday unveiled a new color-coded reopening system for counties based on coronavirus prevalence and testing rates.
“COVID-19 will be with us for a long time and we need to adapt,” Newsom said during a Friday press conference.
The new framework, which takes effect Monday, reflects lessons state and local governments have learned over the last five months of adapting to the pandemic, he said.
“It’s simple, also slow,” Newsom said.
Under the new ranking system, counties fall into four color-coded categories depending on the number of COVID-19 cases per 100,000 residents and the percentage of tests that come back positive, Newsom said. The Newsom administration will also consider how well a county is targeting disease fighting resources for its highest risk residents.
The color categories — purple, red, orange and yellow — will determine how much of a county’s economy can be open. For example, in purple-tier counties, where COVID is deemed most widespread, restaurants can only operate outside. Restaurants in red-tier counties, the next most restrictive category, can operate at 25% capacity indoors.
Generally, the counties that have been on the state’s monitoring list are in the purple tier, Newsom said. In those counties, the virus is considered “widespread,” with more than 8 percent of tests coming back positive and more than 7 new cases daily per 100,000 residents.
Most counties, including Sacramento, Yolo and Placer, are in the purple tier.
El Dorado and the eight other counties in the red tier are considered to have “substantial” disease spread. Disease spread is “moderate” in eight orange counties and “minimal” in three yellow counties.
In a significant change from previous guidelines, hair salons and barbershops can now open for indoor service with modifications throughout the state, even in purple counties. Meanwhile, nail salons can only be open outdoors in purple counties.
Tiers will be updated every Tuesday. Counties must stay in each tier for at least three weeks before they can move to a less restrictive tier. They will only be eligible to move to a less restrictive tier if their numbers show improvement for at least two weeks. If they fall short of the metrics for their tier for two weeks, they will move to a more restrictive tier.
Newsom said that’s a significant change from the previous guidelines, which allowed for faster reopening. Newsom drew criticism for his initial reopening plans, which some argued were too fast, even as some counties and businesses pressured him to let them reopen more quickly.
Once a county is placed in a new tier all sectors can begin following the new guidelines immediately, except schools.
To reopen schools for in-person instruction, counties must not only move into the red tier, but remain there for at least two weeks, according to the new guidelines. That means a county must effectively have at test positivity rate under 8 percent and fewer than 7 new cases per 100,000 residents for at least a month to reopen schools. Purple-tier counties can still apply for elementary school reopening waivers.
California is down from its peak in hospitalizations, when more than 7,100 coronavirus patients were hospitalized in late July. Now, about 4,200 people are hospitalized because of the virus, which Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly noted is still more than were hospitalized in June.
Under the new guidelines, Californians are still required to wear masks when they interact with people outside their household. They are also still encouraged to move activities outside and to limit the errands they run to minimize risk.