As COVID-19 cases are rising sharply across the state, Gov. Gavin Newsom and the California Department of Public Health today moved 28 counties — including Contra Costa — to the most restrictive tier in the Blueprint for a Safer Economy.
Contra Costa was downgraded just last week from the orange to the red tier, and according to state guidelines, the county would have been allowed to remain in the red tier for up to two weeks in the face of worsening metrics used to measure the spread of COVID-19 in the county. In today’s press conference, Newsom said the state would no longer wait two weeks before making a decision to downgrade a county, and the review process that was occurring on a weekly basis will now happen multiple times a week.
“We are sounding the alarm,” Newsom said. “California is experiencing the fastest increase in cases we have seen yet –faster than what we experienced at the outset of the pandemic or even this summer. The spread of COVID-19, if left unchecked, could quickly overwhelm our health care system and lead to catastrophic outcomes. That is why we are pulling an emergency brake in the Blueprint for a Safer Economy. Now is the time to do all we can – government at all levels and Californians across the state – to flatten the curve again as we have done before.”
Purple tier restrictions will take effect Tuesday, Nov. 17. Under the purple tier, restaurant, museums, places of worship, gyms and movie theaters will only be allowed outdoors. Retail locations will be restricted to a 25% capacity limit. Bars that do not serve food were closed when the county moved to the red tier last week. Bars that serve food follow the same guidelines as restaurants.
“The data we are seeing is very concerning. We are in the midst of a surge, and time is of the essence. Every day matters and every decision matters,” said California Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly. “Personal decisions are critical, and I am imploring every Californian to stay home if they can, wear a mask whenever they leave their homes, limit mixing, practice physical distancing and wash their hands.”
The state also issued revised guidelines regarding the usage of face masks. Under the new guidelines, face masks must be worn at all times when outside the home. Exceptions include: children under two years of age; persons who are hearing impaired, or communicating with a person who is hearing impaired, where the ability to see the mouth is essential for communication; persons working in an environment in which the use of a mask creates a safety concern and persons with a medical or mental condition for whom wearing a face covering could obstruct breathing or who are unconscious, incapacitated, or otherwise unable to remove a face covering without assistance. The guidelines note that conditions described in the last exception are rare.
Two metrics are used to determine tier assignment according to the Blueprint for a Safer Economy. The adjusted case rate measures the seven-day average of new cases per 100,000 residents. Last Tuesday, Nov. 10, the seven-day average adjusted daily case rate was 5.3. A rate higher than 7.0 triggers a county into the purple tier. Today, the county is reporting an adjusted case rate of 10.0.
The second measurement that determines a county’s tier assignment is the positivity rate, which is the percentage of COVID-19 tests that return a positive result. Last week, Contra Costa County reported a positivity rate of 2.4% when the weekly assignment was last calculated. Today, the county reported a rate of 3.7%. The orange tier requires a positivity rate from 2.0% to 4.9%. A positivity rate higher than 5% will trigger a county into the red tier, while a rate higher than 8% will result in an assignment to the purple tier.