Santa Cruz County's COVID-19 metrics
Santa Cruz County’s COVID-19 metrics.
COVID Economy

Into the ‘red’ again: Santa Cruz County’s reemergence from COVID restrictions takes big step forward

Tuesday marked the latest tier shift for Santa Cruz County, as COVID data pushed things back into the red. Beginning Wednesday, restaurants and theaters can reopen indoor service at 25% capacity, gyms at 10%. Other reappearances looming include high school football and live music.

You knew it was coming, hoped it was coming, were pretty certain it was coming — but it required official word from the state on Tuesday to become reality.

And now it’s a sure thing: Santa Cruz County is in the red tier again, with lighter restrictions on residents’ everyday movements to take effect on Wednesday.

“This change is a sign of our community’s commitment to health and to each other. The light at the end of the tunnel is getting brighter. I urge everyone to get a vaccine once they become eligible so that we may continue on this path to recovery,” Santa Cruz County Health Officer Dr. Gail Newel said in a statement.

In the same statement, she announced the removal of local orders restricting visitors at nursing homes and other congregate living facilities.

Currently, counties must have an adjusted rate at or below 7 new coronavirus cases per day per 100,000 people over a two-week period to move into the red tier. Data from California’s Blueprint For a Safer Economy listed Santa Cruz County’s case rate at 6.7 on Tuesday — a metric that had stayed below 7 for the previous 13 days.

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While it might take a while for restaurants (which now can begin indoor dining at 25% capacity) and gyms (10% capacity) to see a huge economic bump from the tier change, there will be more tangible re-opening sights and sounds this week. For instance:

  • The Scotts Valley and St. Francis High football teams will take to the field at Santa Cruz High on Thursday at 7 p.m. for the first organized game the county has witnessed in 15 months. No fans will be in attendance, Scotts Valley coach/athletic director Louie Walters said, but a livestream will be available.
  • Michael’s On Main will waste no time bringing some live music back indoors. It plans to open at 25% capacity Saturday night when local band the Puffball Collective plays on its indoor stage.

While the state has granted permission for amusement parks to re-open at limited capacity on April 1, Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk spokesman Kris Reyes said there are not yet any formal plans to do so.

It took a move to the orange tier in late October for the Boardwalk to briefly crank up its rides again, but only for county residents, 500 at a time, who had made reservations for a specific time slot. New guidelines open up amusement parks to people from within the entire state, so the equation for a restart could be trickier.

In an email to Lookout on Tuesday, Reyes said “We’re still working on an opening date ... but we can’t wait to see the Dipper running again soon!”

Limited capacity live outdoor events will be allowed to resume beginning April 1, along with the opening of amusement parks.

What will the red tier bring?

The red tier is the third most restrictive of the four reopening tiers and includes the following rules:

• Indoor restaurant dining rooms and movie theaters can reopen at 25% capacity or up to 100 people, whichever is fewer. Gyms and dance and yoga studios can open at 10% capacity. Museums, zoos and aquariums can open indoor activities at 25% capacity.

• Houses of worship can open indoors at 25% capacity. Stores, indoor malls and libraries can open at 50% capacity. Indoor malls must keep common areas closed and reduce capacity at food courts.

Lookout’s COVID Today, the latest on COVID-19 developments as they happen, is among eight Lookout initiatives documenting all aspects of the pandemic this year. For more, go to our COVID 2021 section, sign up for COVID Text Alerts and our COVID PM newsletter here, and leave feedback and ask questions at the end of this story.

• Wedding ceremonies, funerals and other cultural ceremonies can be held indoors at 25% capacity. Wedding receptions are banned.

• Higher-education institutions can allow for indoor lectures and student gatherings but are limited to 25% capacity or 100 people, whichever is fewer; however, student activities should be held virtually when possible. Some courses in certain indoor settings, like labs and studio arts, may be open at regular capacity.

The statewide picture

Santa Cruz County was among nine California counties cleared to move into a less restrictive category this week. Along with Santa Cruz, five others — Alameda, Butte, Calaveras, Imperial and Solano — moved from the purple tier to the red.

Mariposa and Plumas counties moved from the red tier to the next orange tier, while Alpine County became the sole occupant of the yellow tier.

The progression of counties from tier to tier dovetails with California’s continued emergence from its devastating fall-and-winter coronavirus wave.

Over the last week, California has reported an average of 4,270 new coronavirus cases per day, a 37% decrease from two weeks ago, according to data compiled by The LA Times, a Lookout content partner.

The number of coronavirus-positive patients in California’s hospitals has also plummeted, reaching 3,766 on Sunday, with 1,065 in intensive care units.

Both those figures are the lowest since mid-November.

State officials have set a further goal of administering a total of 4 million COVID-19 vaccine doses to residents in targeted communities vulnerable to the virus. Once that happens, the state will further rewrite its reopening blueprint to make it easier for counties to enter both the orange and yellow tiers.

The threshold to progress to orange would be relaxed from a requirement of under 4.0 daily new cases per 100,0000 residents to under 6.0. Entering the yellow tier would necessitate an adjusted case rate below 2.0 daily new cases per 100,000 people, compared with the current requirement of less than 1.0.

It’s unclear how long it will take to hit the 4-million dose mark. Over the last week, providers throughout California have administered an average of 203,566 doses per day statewide, Times data show.

Gov. Gavin Newsom said Monday that the state is seeing “more and more progress every day as we’re reopening our economy and reopening our schools safely for in-person public instruction.”

Could Santa Cruz move from red to orange soon?

If current COVID positivity rates stay on trend, a move to the orange “moderate risk” tier by the end of March or early April is possible, Newel said last week. Santa Cruz County spent two-and-a-half weeks in orange before being among 28 counties abruptly moved back to purple on Nov. 16.

Contributing: Los Angeles Times