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Five California Counties Advance To Fewer Virus Restrictions

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Carla Esteves
/
KALW
Fremont High School vaccination station

After months with little change, five of California's 58 counties advanced to having fewer business restrictions on Tuesday as the state's worst coronavirus surge continued to ease, with eight more counties likely to move next week and “even more still” in two weeks, Gov. Gavin Newsom said.

“I’m talking about bright light at the end of this tunnel," Newsom said.

The five include Marin County just north of San Francisco and San Mateo County just to the south, with San Francisco and nearby Napa and Santa Clara counties among those likely to see an easing next week based on state data.

However, San Francisco Bay Area health officials have been very cautious about lifting restrictions even when they were allowed to under the state’s four-stage, color-coded plan for reopening the economy.

The others are largely rural Humboldt and Shasta counties in the state's far north, and agricultural Yolo County northwest of Sacramento. The change allows restaurants to reopen for limited indoor dining starting Wednesday, while fitness centers, movie theaters and museums are among those that can reopen indoors with safeguards including mandatory face coverings and capacity limits.

The Democratic governor is under intense political pressure to restart the economy.

Opponents are nearing the end of a signature-gathering drive to trigger a recall election of the governor, and he said talks still are underway with legislative leaders to more swiftly reopen classrooms as the state faces increasing criticism for shuttered schools.

Aside from Napa, Santa Clara and San Francisco, five other counties listed in a state database seem on the verge of meeting the state's requirements to move to a less restrictive tier next week.

They are El Dorado County east of Sacramento, Lassen and Modoc counties in the state's northeast corner and San Luis Obispo on the Central Coast, all currently in the most-restrictive tier.

Sierra County, already in the “orange,” moderate tier, could be the first to move next week to the lowest “yellow” tier that would allow most indoor business operations to open with safety modifications.

However, Trinity County moved backward Tuesday, from “orange” to “red.”

Newsom said his goal is to "get these businesses fully operational” as conditions continue to improve. He spoke at a Sacramento delicatessen as he signed a stimulus package worth $7.6 billion into law, with aid for businesses and at least $600 in one-time payments for 5.7 million lower-income people.

Hospitalizations and ICU cases are down about 40% from a month ago, and death rates are about a third of what they were a month ago, when the state had a record number of fatalities from the massive surge that bridged the winter holidays and lingered into the new year.

Another 225 deaths were reported Tuesday, and the state is on the verge of 50,000 since the pandemic began a year ago.

“I am glad that we are finally able to re-enter the red tier,” Yolo County Board of Supervisors chairman Jim Provenza said after three months of the most severe restrictions. “This will benefit gyms, restaurants, youth sports and many others."

He warned residents to keep following safe practices, however, "so that we can avoid another surge in cases and a possible return to the purple tier.”

Before Tuesday, 52 of California’s 58 counties encompassing nearly all of the state’s 40 million people had long been stuck in the most restrictive “purple” tier under the state’s four-stage, color-coded plan for reopening the economy.

The other counties already deemed to have lower risks of transmission, with consequently fewer restrictions on non-essential indoor business operations, were all rural and largely mountainous counties: Del Norte, Mariposa and Plumas counties in the next “red” tier; Alpine and Sierra counties in the “orange tier.”