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COVID Today

California changes reopening criteria again and allots 40% of vaccine to poorer areas

Under the new system, business reopening rules appear to be eased. And California will earmark 40% of its COVID-19 vaccine doses for low-income communities spread out across 400 of the state’s ZIP codes.

Gov. Gavin Newsom’s administration announced changes late Wednesday night to California’s tiered reopening system that will make it easier for businesses to reopen and increases pressure on school districts to bring kids back to campus.

Under the new system, California will earmark 40% of its COVID-19 vaccine doses for low-income communities spread out across 400 of the state’s ZIP codes, largely in Los Angeles County, the Inland Empire and the Central Valley. Once 2 million of the roughly 8 million eligible residents in those communities are vaccinated, the state will adjust the coronavirus case rate needed for counties to move from the most restrictive purple tier to the red tier.

Instead of 7 cases per 100,000, it will be raised to 10 cases per 100,000 — easing the way for restaurants, gyms, museums, movie theaters and other businesses to reopen indoors at limited capacity.

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Once 4 million residents are vaccinated in those low-income communities — defined as those with low scores on the state’s Healthy Places Index, which measures criteria including income, education, park access, air pollution and housing — the state will adjust the threshold to enter the orange and yellow tiers.

Administration officials said that 1.6 million vaccine doses have already been administered in those low-income communities, and it could take around two weeks to reach the 2 million mark necessary to adjust case rates. Currently, 87% of the state’s population lives in purple-tier counties.

Officials said they also may change the sector-by-sector business reopening guidelines in the coming weeks. Recent lawsuits by restaurateurs, salon owners and craft brewers have alleged unfair treatment.

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The new vaccine strategy follows weeks of Newsom’s emphasis on developing an “equity frame.” African American and Latino Californians have been the hardest hit throughout the pandemic, with the highest levels of COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths. They’ve also been vaccinated at lower rates.

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The announcement also came hours before the one-year anniversary of Newsom declaring a state of emergency due to COVID-19. With the governor facing a recall all but certain to qualify for the ballot, his challenge is to move the state forward quickly enough that people see improvement, but not fast enough to jeopardize its progress as new virus strains emerge.

What the governor likely hopes to avoid at all costs: having things spiral out of control as as they did in July and December, prompting him to shut down the state for the second and third time.

This is a developing story from CalMatters, a Lookout content partner. Please check back for more details.