California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced a new, color-coded reopening process Friday that is more gradual than the original plan, which led to a second round of shutdowns two months ago.
Counties will move through the four-phase system based on their number of new coronavirus cases and percentage of positive tests.
Newsom said the new system will be simple, but more gradual than the old one. It gives the state more power, instead of counties. In May, Newsom handed more power to counties after local authorities complained the original requirements were too strict.
The change comes nearly two months after Newsom shut down bars, indoor dining at restaurants and other businesses for a second time following a surge in COVID-19 cases.
“We’re going to be more stubborn this time and have a mandatory wait time between moves. We didn’t do that last time,” the governor said.
Newsom did say under the new process, counties must meet and maintain certain metrics for three weeks before they can reopen certain businesses. He didn’t say which businesses will be included in which tier or what the reopening will look like.
He laid out the benchmark criteria: in Tier 1, widespread transmission, most nonessential businesses remain closed. Counties in this tier have more than seven new COVID cases per 100,000 people per day and a coronavirus test positivity rate of 8% and above, according to the LA Times.
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In Tier 2, some nonessential indoor businesses will stay closed. Counties in this tier have between four and seven COVID cases per 100,000 people per day and a coronavirus test positivity rate of between 5%-8%.
In Tier 3, more businesses can open with modifications. Counties in this tier have 1-3.9 new COVID cases per 100,000 people per day and a coronavirus positivity rate of 2-4.9%.
In Tier 4, most businesses can reopen with modifications. Counties in this tier have fewer than one new COVID case per 100,000 people per day and a coronavirus positivity rate of less than 2%.
In anticipation of the governor’s announcement, local officials seemed to echo a demand for clarity.
Counties need to understand clearly “what thresholds to aim for and the public health data that will determine success or failure,” the California State Association of Counties said in a statement.
The California Restaurant Association, which represents a sector devastated by restrictions to takeout, delivery or limited outdoor seating if possible, pressed for indoor dining to reopen.
“We’d like to see restaurant dining rooms reopen as soon as possible,” association president Jot Condi said.
“Restaurants in every corner of the state are on life support right now. Every day that passes with a dining room closed, a restaurant owner is more likely to shut the doors permanently.”
Riverside County Supervisor Karen Spiegel, who has recovered from the virus, said she hopes the state will reassess the levels of risk associated with different activities. She questioned why shoppers can fill a Costco while indoor hair salons remain off limits.
California, despite being one of the first states to shut down at the start of the pandemic, has the highest number of confirmed virus cases in the country, with 700,000. It also is the most populous state. It has the third-most deaths in the country, with 12,550.
Since the second round of closures, the number of daily cases has been falling along with hospitalizations and deaths. Cases peaked at 7,170 on July 21 and have since dropped to about 4,300.
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As for schools, Newsom in July set a localized criteria, where counties must clear a benchmark for two weeks in order to reopen their schools.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.