People wearing masks walk the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk.
(Kevin Painchaud/Lookout Santa Cruz)
COVID Economy

Santa Cruz County on track to be among first to enter yellow tier: Here’s what will change

Currently only three of California’s 58 counties are in the yellow tier, and Santa Cruz is one of just five counties in the orange tier that have met yellow tier requirements and could make the move to yellow next week.

Get ready Santa Cruzans, we’re about to turn yellow — and we’ll be among the first in California to do so.

California’s Blueprint for a Safer Economy data was released Tuesday, and — for one week running — Santa Cruz County has now met the criteria to advance from the orange to the less-restrictive yellow tier.

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According to the state guidelines, a county must meet the criteria for a less restrictive tier for two consecutive weeks before advancing. Santa Cruz County appears to be on track to satisfy that requirement by next week, meaning it would advance to the yellow tier on Tuesday April 27, with the new restrictions going into effect on Wednesday, April 28.

Currently only three of California’s 58 counties are in the yellow tier, and Santa Cruz is one of just five counties in the orange tier that have meet yellow tier requirements and could make the move to yellow next week.

The blueprint framework is slated to be eliminated and the state’s entire economy to reopen as usual by June 15, depending on hospital capacity and vaccine supply.

If cases and positivity rates remain low, Santa Cruz could remain in the yellow tier until then. It’s the least restrictive tier of the state’s four-tier system.

Here’s an overview of some of the changes the yellow tier would bring:

Gatherings: Outdoor gatherings of up to 100 people are allowed. Indoor gatherings are strongly discouraged but allowed with modifications.

Private Events (e.g.) receptions and conferences: Allowed outdoors for up to 400 people, subject to testing and vaccination. Allowed indoors up to 200 people if all guests are tested or show proof of full vaccination.

Indoor live events: Allowed for in-state visitors up to 50% capacity, subject to modifications and testing/vaccination requirements.

Museums, Zoos, and Aquariums: Open indoors at full capacity, with modifications.

Places of Worship: Open indoors with modifications, up to 50% capacity.

Movie theaters: Open indoors with modifications, up to 50% capacity.

Hotels and Lodging: Open indoors with modifications, up to 50% capacity.

Restaurants: Open indoors with modifications, up to 50% capacity.

Wineries, Breweries and Distilleries: Open indoors with modifications up to 50% capacity or 200 people, whichever is fewer.

Bars (where no food is served): Open indoors with modifications up to 25% capacity or 100 people, whichever is fewer.

Offices: Open indoors to full capacity with modifications, but remote working is encouraged.

Outdoor seated live events (e.g. sports): Up to 67% capacity, with in-state visitors only.

Amusement parks: Open up to 35% capacity, indoor capacity max 25%, in-state visitors only and regular worker testing encouraged.

Here’s how the yellow tier compares to other tiers in the state’s blueprint:

The tier picture statewide

Thirty-eight of California’s 58 counties have now reached the orange tier, and three have entered the final yellow tier. Seventeen counties remain in the red tier, and none are left in the strictest purple tier.

Compare that with March 9, when 34 counties were still in the purple tier and only four had made it to orange or yellow.

The rapid reopenings over the last six weeks have been fueled by two inversely related trends: a drop in the reported number of new COVID-19 cases and a steady increase in how many Californians are vaccinated for the disease.

Over the last week, California has reported an average of 2,359 new COVID-19 cases per day — an 11.3% decrease from two weeks ago, according to data compiled by The Los Angeles Times. The state hasn’t had sustained case rates that low since last spring.

At the same time, California is now administering hundreds of thousands of vaccine doses every day.

So far, 43.7% of Californians have received at least one shot, and 25.4% are fully vaccinated, according to figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In Santa Cruz County, those numbers are slightly higher, with 57% having gotten one shot and 57% fully vaccinated.

While the overarching goal is to administer as many vaccines as quickly as possible, state officials have emphasized that it’s vital to ensure the doses are being distributed equitably.

To that end, California set a goal at first of administering 2 million, and then 4 million vaccine doses in the state’s hardest hit and most disadvantaged communities — those in the lowest quartile of a socioeconomic measurement tool called the California Healthy Places index.

In support of that effort, California has, since early March, devoted 40% of its overall vaccine supply to the targeted communities.

As residents of those neighborhoods were among those most likely to suffer from or unintentionally spread COVID-19, state officials said improving vaccine coverage in those areas was critical not just to armor them against the pandemic, but to make it safer for the entire state to forge ahead with reopening.

Upon hitting the 2-million dose mark in mid-March, California reworked its reopening blueprint to make it easier for counties to escape the purple tier.

Hitting 4 million doses, which happened in early April, triggered provisions that lowered the thresholds necessary to enter the orange and yellow tiers.

Previously, counties had to maintain a coronavirus case rate — adjusted based on the number of tests performed — of less than 4 new cases per day per 100,000 people to move from the red to the orange tier. That requirement has since been loosened to a rate of less than 6 new cases per day.

Entering the most lenient yellow tier now takes an adjusted daily new case rate of below 2 per 100,000 people. The old requirement was less than 1.

However, even that relaxed requirement is a hard hurdle to clear. Only Alpine, Lassen and Sierra counties have made it to the yellow tier so far. Santa Cruz and four others will join them as soon as next week if their numbers hold steady.

Mallory Pickett reports for Lookout. Luke Money is a reporter for the Los Angeles Times, a Lookout content partner.