Gavin Newsom

Photo courtesy of Office of Governor Gavin Newsom

As Contra Costa County Health Services (CCHS) announced Tuesday morning that the county had advanced to the orange tier in the state’s Blueprint for a Safer Economy, state officials were announcing plans to completely reopen the state and eliminate the four-tiered, color-coded system early this summer.

“With more than 20 million vaccines administered across the state, it is time to turn the page on our tier system and begin looking to fully reopen California’s economy,” said Gov. Gavin Newsom. “We can now begin planning for our lives post-pandemic. We will need to remain vigilant, and continue the practices that got us here – wearing masks and getting vaccinated – but the light at the end of this tunnel has never been brighter.”

The state’s economy will reopen on June 15, provided two conditions are met. The first is that the supply of vaccine coming into the state must be sufficient to inoculate every individual aged 16 and over who wants to be vaccinated. The second is that hospitalization rates must remain stable and low.

If both conditions are met, normal activities across the state will be allowed to resume for the first time since March 2020 when the first statewide shelter-in-place order went into place in an attempt to slow the expanding COVID-19 pandemic. All sectors listed in the Blueprint for a Safer Economy will be able to return to usual operations as long as they comply with the California Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s requirements and with public health policies, such as masking and testing. Large-scale indoor events, like conventions, will be allowed with testing or vaccination verification requirements.

“California has made incredible progress controlling the spread of COVID-19 by staying home, masking, and getting vaccines out quickly to Californians in every corner of the state, including in those communities hardest hit by this pandemic,” said California Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly. “In order to take the next step, we must continue to do our part to keep this momentum moving in the right direction, and that means continuing to wear a mask and ensuring everyone who is eligible gets the vaccine.”

The state has seen a successful effort to ramp up vaccination rates, particularly in economically challenged communities that have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic. That success led, in part, to the county’s assignment to the less-restrictive orange tier announced April 6.

In March, the California Department of Public Health announced that the criteria for advancing through the Blueprint’s tiers would be eased at two points. The first would occur when the state had administered 2 million vaccine doses to residents in the lowest quartile of the Healthy Places Index (HPI). The HPI provides an overall score and data that predicts life expectancy, and compares community conditions that shape health across the state. The state achieved this mark on March 12, and just 24 days later, the state hit the second goal of administering 4 million doses to those in the lowest HPI quartile, and the Blueprint criteria was once again eased.

With the relaxed criteria, Contra Costa County qualified for the move to the orange tier. The move to the orange tier allows: indoor services at places of worship to accommodate a 50% maximum capacity; restaurants and movie theaters to accommodate a maximum capacity of 50% or 200 people, whichever is fewer; gyms and fitness centers to open at a maximum of 25% capacity indoors; and outdoor sports and live performances to accommodate a maximum of 33% capacity with advance registrations.

“This is great news for our community,” said Diane Burgis, chair of the Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors. “The last few months have been difficult for everyone, and it’s nice to see us make more progress in the fight against COVID.”

The county moved from the most restrictive purple tier to the red tier on March 14, and was required to remain in the tier for a minimum of three weeks. The metrics used to determine the county’s tier assignment continued to improve, but at a slower pace than observed earlier in the year. The adjusted case rate that measures the number of newly confirmed COVID-19 cases per day per 100,000 residents hit 5.0, and stopped falling. Before Tuesday’s easing of the criteria, the county needed to achieve a case rate of 4.0 and hold at that rate or below for three weeks before it could be moved to the orange tier. Then, the case rate threshold increased to 6.0 with the updated criteria, allowing the county to advance.

“Case rates have plateaued recently, which shows we can’t let down our guard even though the pace of vaccinations is accelerating,” said Will Harper, CCHS communications and media relations specialist. “That said, the primary indicators are stable right now and in some cases, such as hospitalizations, are declining.”

Harper added that new variants of the novel coronavirus threaten the recent successes in the fight against COVID-19, and the county is in a race to vaccinate residents before a new variant can take hold. The state has committed to reevaluating the progress of the vaccination effort and the continued efficacy of the vaccines against the disease before reopening.

“We are still in a pandemic and people should continue to act accordingly,” said CCHS Health Officer Dr. Chris Farnitano. “Keep wearing masks in public and get vaccinated as soon as you can. I still strongly recommend people to avoid most indoor activities with people outside of their own household until they are fully vaccinated.”

Since the start of the pandemic, the county has recorded 65,835 COVID-19 infections, and 760 deaths have been attributed to the disease. There are currently 35 COVID-19 patients hospitalized in the county, the lowest number since Nov. 2, 2020, and 12 of these COVID-19 patients are occupying intensive care unit beds in the county.