California’s 4-Tier System For Reopening Explained

While the past system identified counties with high rates of infections and hospitalizations, the new one is based on a county’s rate of new cases per 100,000 residents per day (based on a seven-day average with a seven-day lag) and the percentage of positive COVID-19 tests.

Under the new plan, each county is designated as either PURPLE” (widespread), “RED” (substantial) “ORANGE” (moderate), or “YELLOW” (minimal) that indicates the spread of COVID-19 and dictates what types of businesses and activities are allowed to open in each county.

Here’s a description for each tier:

Purple Tier: County risk level is “widespread”

  • More than seven daily new cases per 100,000 residents, or test positivity greater than 8%.
  • Most non-essential indoor business operations are closed, but indoor hair salons and barbershops can reopen effective immediately.
  • Newsom stated that this tier replaced the previous watch list.

Red Tier: County risk level is “substantial”

  • Four to seven daily new cases per 100,000 residents, or test positivity between 5% and 8%
  • Some non-essential indoor business operations (office spaces, card rooms) are closed, but gyms, movie theaters, and indoor dining can reopen with modifications.
  • Schools can open two weeks after a county moves from purple to red.

Orange Tier: County risk is “moderate”

  • One to four daily new cases per 100,000 residents, or test positivity between 2% and 5%
  • Some indoor business operations are open with modifications.

Yellow Tier: County risk is “minimal”

  • Less than 1 new daily case per 100,000 residents, or test positivity less than 2%
  • Most indoor business operations are open with modifications.

Each county will be assigned its tier every Tuesday, and a county must remain in a tier for 21 consecutive days before moving to the next one.

To move forward, a county must meet the next tier’s criteria for 14 consecutive days.

A county can move backward by failing to meet the criteria for two consecutive weeks, or if state officials see a rapid rise in hospitalizations.

The California Department of Public Health stated that the case rates will not include prisoner cases, and will “include an adjustment factor for counties that are testing above the state average.”

Additional Information About Schools And The System Change

Q. If a school opens while its county is rated red, then the county moves back up to purple, does it have to close?

A. No. Schools that open while their county is rated red, but then move back up to purple may remain open but must increase Covid-19 testing for staff. According to reopening guidance released July 17, “schools should begin testing staff, or increase the frequency of staff testing but are not required to close” if cases or positivity rates increase countywide.

The state recommends that all schools that are open for in-person instruction test staff once every two months, or 25% of staff every two weeks. A school in a county that moves back into the purple tier should exceed this.

All schools are required to close when at least 5% of staff and students test positive for Covid-19 within 14 days. School districts must close if one-quarter of schools in the districts are closed due to Covid-19 cases. Schools can usually reopen within 14 days after campuses have been thoroughly cleaned and disinfected, public health contact tracing is completed and the county public health department has given its approval.

Q. Can elementary schools in counties rated purple apply for waivers to open in person?

A. Yes. Dr. Mark Ghaly, the state’s secretary of Health and Human Service, said on Aug. 28 that schools in counties with daily case rates of 7 to 14 per 100,000 residents can apply for elementary school waivers for students in grades K-6. Schools and districts must consult with employee unions, parents, and the community before applying for the waiver, which must be approved by the county public health department in consultation with the state Department of Public Health.

Q. Why did the state change its county monitoring system?

A. The state decided to simplify its previous complex county monitoring system by reducing the number of metrics it was calculating (from six to two metrics) and, instead, creating a four-tiered system. Also, it will change the status of counties every seven days instead of daily. All of this is intended to create a more predictable, easily understandable way to determine when businesses and schools can reopen, Governor Newsom said, when he introduced the new system on August 28th.

The previous county monitoring list also included data related to the total number of tests administered daily, the number of people hospitalized with Covid-19, the number of patients admitted to intensive care units due to Covid-19, and the number of respirators available. But Ghaly said those are “lagging indicators” and the state wanted to focus on the earliest indicators that show what is happening currently in communities, so they chose case rates.

Focusing on test positivity rates also allows the state to remind the public about the ways to avoid becoming infected, he said, such as by washing hands frequently, wearing masks, maintaining physical distances of 6 feet, and avoiding mixing with people outside of households, when possible.

However, both Ghaly and Newsom said the state can take an “emergency break” from reopenings if hospitalizations and intensive care unit admissions begin to overwhelm county healthcare systems.

For their current status, click on the map below to select different areas.

What some people have to say about it.

California faces backlash over Governor Newsom’s new tiered system for reopening businesses amid COVID-19

How ‘Flatten the Curve’ Turned into ‘Shut Down Forever’ in California

California Attorney Says Governor Newsom is Deliberately Using Bad Data to Keep State in Lockdown

California’s Tiered System For Reopening Is A Scam

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