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Newsom Unveils New Color-Coded COVID-19 Reopening Guide

Courtesy photo / State of California

Friday afternoon, Governor Gavin Newsom outlined a new color-coded, four-tiered framework for California counties to reopen different economic sectors.

“We wanted to make adjustments based upon the input we received from county health officers, input we received from experts, our own experience here in the state of California, to adjust the frameworks from the old monitoring list to a more dynamic list that we hope is not only more dynamic, but is much more simple to understand,” he said. “Stringent, though, nonetheless in terms of its application but statewide in terms of its consequence in terms of what it covers. Simple, also slow.”

Counties can move between tiers based on case rates, test positivity and additional requirements on commitment to health equity. At a minimum, counties must remain in a tier for at least three weeks before moving to a less restrictive tier. Data is reviewed weekly and tiers are updated on Tuesdays. To loosen restrictions, a county must meet the next tier’s criteria for two consecutive weeks. If a county’s metrics worsen for two consecutive weeks, it will be assigned a more restrictive tier. Counties can only move one tier at a time.

Each tier — widespread, substantial, moderate, and minimal — has a corresponding color indicating a county’s risk level but all allow for some level of operation of indoor businesses with modifications. Purple, which is replacing the county monitoring list, represents “widespread” risk with more than seven daily new cases per 100,000 people and a positivity rate higher than 8%. Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino and Ventura counties are all in the purple tier as of Friday. Red represents “substantial” risk with four to seven daily new cases per 100,000 and a positivity rate between 5-8%. Orange represents “moderate” risk level with one to 4 daily new cases per 100,000 people and a positivity rate between 2-4.9%. Finally, yellow represent “minimal” risk with less than 1 new daily case per 100,00 people and a positivity rate less than 2%.

There is no green tier. “We don’t put up green because we don’t believe that there’s a green light that says just go back to the way things were or back to the pre-pandemic mindset,” explained the governor.

The governor also shared lessons from the last phased reopening.

“We put out guidelines, they didn’t mean ‘go.’ But we empowered the counties to make decisions based upon attestations and partnerships they had to form with county health officers signing off with county officials on their ability to move. We’re going to be more stubborn this time and have a mandatory wait time between moves. We didn’t do that last time and that is a significant distinction between what we’ve learned from the past and what we now are advancing in this, more stringent but we believe more steady, approach to moving counties within tiers and modifying the activities within those respective counties,” he said.

The state will also be able to use an “emergency brake” if hospitalizations threaten the state’s capacity.

California Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly also addressed schools reopening, saying that in-person teaching can resume if a county is out of the purple “widespread” tier, though districts will still have to wait two weeks before discussing whether to have students back in the classroom.

Californians can look up their county’s status and what businesses are open on the updated state website.

This new system will go into effect on Monday.

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