Updated 5:49 p.m.
Sacramento County is moving back into the most restrictive coronavirus tier, making it one of 11 counties that will need to increase restrictions this week under California’s COVID-19 reopening system.
Sacramento County has moved from the red, or “substantial,” tier to the purple, or “widespread,” tier. Nearby Placer and El Dorado counties are also moving backward in the system this week from the orange, or “moderate,” tier to the red tier.
This is the first time since California introduced the tiered reopening system that no county moved forward into a less restrictive tier. Of the state's 58 counties, 12 are now in the most restrictive purple tier.
These tier adjustments were announced Tuesday afternoon by California Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly in his weekly news conference.
“We know that this is hard,” Ghaly said. “We know many people feel exhausted. They feel isolated and they're impatient ... We know that this is hard work, but we must do more.”
What New Restrictions Mean For Sacramento
As Sacramento County moves backward, it will mean that many businesses will have to return to outdoor-only operations after being allowed to resume some indoor functions following the county’s move into the red tier in late September.
Businesses that will have to cease indoor operations include restaurants, wineries, cardrooms, family entertainment centers like bowling alleys and arcades, gyms and fitness centers, movie theatres, museums, zoos, aquariums, places of worship, playgrounds and other recreation facilities.
Bars, pubs, brewpubs and breweries can only operate outdoors if they are offering sit-down meals in addition to drinks. You can see the full list of restrictions on the state's COVID-19 information site.
Outdoor operations can mean serving customers under a tent, canopy or other shelter as long as only one side is closed, according to the county. These heightened restrictions will go into effect Friday, Nov. 13 at noon.
Schools that have already reopened for in-person instruction, either under a waiver or while Sacramento County was in the red tier, are allowed to continue in-person classes. But schools that have not reopened will have to wait until they get a waiver from the county, which is available only for grades TK-6, or until the county has been in the red tier again for at least two weeks.
If an individual school was working on a phased re-opening while the county was in the red tier, it can continue that phased reopening. In school districts that were implementing a phased reopening, school sites that did not yet open for in-person instruction can’t reopen until the county has been in the red tier again for two weeks.
Sacramento Officials, Businesses Contest State Rules
In early October, Sacramento County officials had launched a push to “turn Sacramento orange by Halloween.” Sacramento County Public Health Officer Dr. Olivia Kasirye said the plan was ultimately held back by an outbreak at a long-term care facility and a general uptick in community spread.
Last week Kasirye said that gatherings were the main factor behind the rise.
“It’s due to people getting together on the weekend, either at home or at restaurants and bars,” she said. “We’re still getting the message out, please as much as possible stay away from gatherings.”
The state recommends that if you have a gathering, keep it to less than two hours, invite no more than three households and do it outside.
After Tuesday's announcement, Sacramento’s Downtown Sacramento Partnership, Midtown Association and R Street Partnership sent a letter to the California Health & Human Services Agency urging the agency to allow restaurants, museums and fitness businesses to keep operating indoors.
“Sacramento County’s data is clearly linking transmission to private gatherings, disregarding this information penalizes businesses that have gone above and beyond to ensure a safe and healthy experience,” the letter read. “As we creep into the winter months, it will be impossible for restaurants to survive purely on outdoor seating as the weather changes.”
Sacramento County had filed a request asking the state to reevaluate its metrics for the week of Nov. 4 due to possible false positives and many cases in concentrated settings like long-term care facilities. It asked that the state put a temporary hold of at least two weeks on moving the state to a stricter tier to allow the county time to investigate the potential issue with false-positive test results and to see if the county’s case count stabilizes with the containment of recent case clusters in long-term care facilities.
The state denied that request and moved the county into this more restrictive tier this week.
“Tightening of restrictions back to Tier 1 would put an undue economic burden on many businesses, including restaurants who may be forced to permanently close their businesses if unable to conduct outdoor dining,” Sacramento County epidemiologist Jamie wrote in the request.
White also wrote in the request that the county doesn’t have enough support or resources to effectively enforce the county’s return to the most restrictive tier, and that such a return would be “unlikely to reduce community transmission” without business or public compliance.
“... If the County is required to return to Tier 1, there is also a possibility that it would be eligible for accelerated movement back into Tier 2 immediately upon its return, resulting in further confusion for our residents,” White wrote.
Other Sacramento Region, California Counties Move Into More Restrictive Tiers
In Placer and El Dorado counties, the move from the orange to the red tier will mean more restrictions on indoor operations for restaurants, gyms and places of worship, among other things.
Other counties that are moving into more restrictive tiers are Amador, Contra Costa, Modoc, San Diego, Santa Cruz, Siskiyou, Stanislaus and Trinity counties.
In his news conference, Ghaly also noted certain high-risk activities fueling COVID-19 transmission, and urged Californians to be careful.
“We know that activities where it's difficult to mask the whole time — so, for example, eating and drinking – create a higher risk for COVID transmission,” he said. “Similarly, activities where you see people who you haven't seen recently, so people outside of your household, also create a higher risk situation … So we want to be very careful, not just with those we don't know from outside of our household, but even those that we know quite well who aren't part of our immediate household.”
These tier reassignments come as COVID-19 cases and deaths are surging across the nation. Officials, including Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg, have expressed concern that cases will grow as the weather gets colder and the holidays approach.
Steinberg tweeted a message Tuesday following Sacramento County’s tier adjustment asking residents to “for God’s sake stop gathering.”
As our @SacCountyCA public health order changes this Friday November 13 shifting us backwards into purple, I cannot say clearly enough - for God’s sake stop gathering.https://t.co/cWc8vPcwoU pic.twitter.com/AyOurx2iP6— @mayor_Steinberg (@Mayor_Steinberg) November 10, 2020
Other Counties Could Slip Next Week
Though San Joaquin, Yolo and Nevada counties have not qualified to be moved back to more restrictive tiers yet, each announced Tuesday that they have seen a rise in cases that could result in them being moved back in coming weeks.
San Joaquin County has one week to improve its number of daily cases before slipping back into the purple tier. Tiffany Heyer with the County Office of Emergency Services says the positivity rate is good but more people need to be tested.
"By showing that we can get everybody tested whether you have symptoms or not ... we can show that we have COVID under control in our county," Heyer said. "So, we need everybody to go out and get tested and we have multiple testing sites in San Joaquin County that we can get people to that are free.”
Nevada County wrote in a press release Tuesday that this week, the county’s data qualified it for the more restrictive red tier for the first time since the tier framework was first announced. The county is currently in the orange tier, but if the data meets one of the more restrictive tiers next week, it will be moved into the red tier starting Tuesday, Nov. 17.
Yolo County has been allowed to stay in the red tier this week, but wrote in a press release Tuesday that the possibility of it falling into the most restrictive purple tier remains as the number of new cases in the county continues to grow.
“While we are not moving into the purple tier this week, we are seeing an uptick in the number of cases reported each day. Staying in red does not mean we can let down our guard,” said Yolo County Public Health Officer Dr. Aimee Sisson in the press release. “To protect our community, residents need to continue to wear masks, keep their distance, wash their hands and only gather outdoors in small groups with distancing and masks.”
Once a county has been moved into a more restrictive tier, it has to lower its daily case rates, among other metrics, to meet a less restrictive tier’s criteria for two consecutive weeks. Kasirye offered a message Tuesday on what Sacramento County needs to do to make that happen.
“Sacramento County needs to have lower daily case rates. The only way to do that is to do what we know works,” Kasirye said in a press release. “We all have a part in this and we must be committed to social distancing measures in public spaces (6ft apart, wear face coverings, wash hands, etc.) and to avoid gathering with non-household members.”
As of the Nov. 10 tier adjustment, the state reported that Sacramento County had 9.7 new daily COVID-19 cases per 100,000 residents and a 4.1% positivity rate. Statewide, it reported 8.4 new daily COVID-19 cases per 100,000 residents and a 3.4% positivity rate.
Ghaly noted during his news conference Monday that he anticipates more counties may be moving into more restrictive tiers in the coming weeks.
“We anticipate if things stay the way they are, that between this week and next week, over half of California counties will have moved into a more restrictive tier,” Ghaly said.
CapRadio provides a trusted source of news because of you. As a nonprofit organization, donations from people like you sustain the journalism that allows us to discover stories that are important to our audience. If you believe in what we do and support our mission, please donate today.