Quick Take:

Santa Cruz County’s health metrics now meet the red tier requirements, and the county is expected to get a final OK next week to progress out of purple on March 10.

Santa Cruz County now meets the COVID-19 metrics for the “red tier” of the state’s Blueprint for a Safer Economy, setting the stage for a transition out of the purple tier next week.

If the county maintains or improves these metrics on March 9, it will move to the less restrictive red tier next Wednesday, March 10, county officials said.

The news about Santa Cruz County’s metrics came as state officials announced that seven other counties will move from the purple tier — the strictest level in the state’s four-category reopening roadmap — into the red tier, effective Wednesday.

Santa Clara, San Francisco, San Luis Obispo, El Dorado, Napa, Lassen and Modoc counties got the OK Tuesday to progress into red. This grows the number of counties that have progressed out of the purple tier to 18, and raises the number of Californians living outside the most restrictive category from about 1.6 million to 5 million, representing about 13% of the state’s population.

In Santa Clara County, officials announced they would be changing many of their local regulations to align with state public health guidelines. Previously, Santa Clara had adhered to somewhat stricter regulations than the state’s framework.

If Santa Cruz moves to the red tier next week, as expected, some of the changes include: outdoor gatherings are no longer restricted to three households, indoor dining can resume with up to 25% capacity or maximum 100 people, gyms and yoga studios can open indoors with up to 10% capacity, and movie theaters can reopen with 25% capacity or maximum 100 people.

Museums can open indoor activities at 25% capacity. Stores, indoor malls and libraries can open at 50% capacity — though indoor malls must keep common areas closed and reduce capacity at food courts.

Counties are assigned to tiers based on three criteria: their average coronavirus case rates, which are adjusted based on the number of tests performed; testing positivity rate; and a health equity metric intended to ensure the positivity rate in poor communities of color does not significantly lag behind the overall county figure.

Del Norte, Humboldt, Trinity, Shasta, Plumas, Yolo, Marin, San Mateo and Mariposa counties were already in the red tier. Two counties — Sierra and Alpine — have gone a step further, into the orange tier.

No county is currently in the least stringent yellow category.

Counties must meet the next tier’s criteria for two weeks to advance. Besides Santa Cruz County, 11 others could potentially move ahead next week, including nine currently in the purple tier: Alameda, Butte, Calaveras, Imperial, Mono, Placer, Solano and Tuolumne.

Over the last few weeks, the state’s coronavirus numbers have fallen to levels not seen in months. However, as has often been the case throughout the pandemic, that optimism carries with it a kernel of caution.

Though the state is heading in the right direction, the rate of decline has slowed, sparking some concerns that the number of new cases could stall at an elevated rate, hampering a move toward wider reopenings. Gov. Gavin Newsom acknowledged Monday that “we are seeing a little bit of a plateau, and one needs to be mindful of that.”

Officials at the federal level have expressed similar worries and said it’s still too early to abandon the public health protocols that fueled the recent turnaround.

California has reported an average of 5,224 new coronavirus cases per day over the last week, according to data compiled by The Times. That’s a nearly 35% decrease from two weeks ago.

Hospitalizations have also continued to fall. As of Sunday, 4,912 coronavirus-positive patients were hospitalized statewide, the lowest figure since Nov. 19. The number of Californians battling COVID-19 in intensive care units — 1,439 — has also fallen to pre-Thanksgiving levels.

Meanwhile, the pace of vaccinations has ramped up. Over the last week, providers throughout California have administered 235,711 doses per day, the highest rolling average to date. Overall, almost 9.1 million doses have been administered statewide.

Contributing: Los Angeles Times

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