What to Know
- San Diego's case rate on March 16 was 6.8, making the second week in a row the case rate fell below 10.0. This qualifies the county for a move to the red tier
- In the red tier, indoor operations can resume, with modifications, at gyms, restaurants, museums, movie theaters and more
- On April 2, the state announced that more activities would be added to the list of reopenings -- including outdoor gatherings, indoor concerts and more
California public health officials March 16 announced San Diego County has lowered its case rate enough to shift to the state's less restrictive red tier, allowing for some indoor activities to reopen.
Now back in the red tier, San Diego can ease restrictions for restaurants, gyms, movie theaters, museums and more as soon as Wednesday, the state said. Weeks later, on April 2, the state announced that more activities would be added to the list of reopenings -- including outdoor gatherings, indoor concerts. The restrictions will ease on April 15.
And businesses instantly made plans to reopen. The San Diego Air & Space Museum in Balboa Park announced they were reopening to guests on Wednesday with the necessary modifications outlined by the state. 24 Hour Fitness centers across San Diego County were also preparing to reopen indoors Wednesday morning.
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Moments after the announcement was made, San Diego Board of Supervisors Chair Nathan Fletcher called it a step forward but did not expand on how it would affect San Diego.
"This is another strong step forward in our responsible recovery from COVID-19," Fletcher said in a statement. "While it has been a long year particularly for our gyms and restaurants, the vaccine has given us hope that we can not only save lives, but get our way of life back.”
What is open in San Diego under the red tier?
Here's what can reopen in San Diego County now that we're in the red tier (Industries not listed here will have the same restrictions as in the purple tier):
Gatherings: While previously, San Diegans weren't allowed to gather in groups larger than three households, restrictions are easing on April 15. In the red tier, outdoor gatherings of up to 25 people are allowed. Indoor gatherings are strongly discouraged but allowed.
Private events, receptions and conferences: In all tiers, events must have pre-purchased tickets or a defined guest list and assigned seating. In the red tier, outdoor gatherings are limited to 50 people. If all guests provide proof of a negative test or show proof of a full vaccination, events are allowed indoors. In this case, capacity outdoors is 200 and indoors is 100.
Indoor live events and concerts: Tickets must be purchased in advance and must be limited to in-state residents only. At the event, social distancing must be ensured and there will be a defined area for eating and drinking. For smaller venues (capacity up to 1,500 people), capacity is limited to 10% or 100 people or 25% if all guests show a negative COVID-19 test or proof of full vaccination.
Venues with a larger capacity must have all guests show a negative COVID-19 test or proof of vaccination. Capacity is limited to 20%.
Restaurants: A shift to the red tier means eateries will be able to offer indoor dining again at 25% capacity or 100 people – whichever is fewer.
Separately, breweries, wineries and distilleries in both the red and purple tiers got the go-ahead to serve alcohol outdoors without having to serve food, though bars that do not serve food must remain closed. The establishments will be required to limit customers to 90-minute sessions with reservations only and must stop serving by 8 p.m.
Gyms: Gyms, which have been closed for indoor operations since last summer, will be able to operate at 10% capacity indoors.
Museums, Zoos and Aquariums: While the San Diego Zoo and SeaWorld San Diego have been able to operate outdoors, some indoor activities will be allowed to resume under the red tier with a maximum capacity of 25%. Amusements, like the roller coasters at SeaWorld San Diego will remain closed.
Movie Theaters: San Diegans can see movies again, indoors, as long as theaters limit capacity to 25% or 100 people, whichever is fewer.
Shopping Centers: Retail businesses in shopping centers can up their capacity from 25% to 50% in the red tier. Food courts can reopen with 25% capacity or 100 people, whichever is fewer, just like restaurants. Other common areas must remain closed.
Schools: K-12 school can reopen for in-person instruction without seeking a waiver but it will be up to local school districts to determine when and how reopening will occur.
Higher education institutions can also allow for indoor lectures and student gatherings up to 25% or 100 people, whichever is fewer. Some courses conducted in certain indoor settings, like labs and studio arts, may be open at regular capacity but the state recommends virtual activities wherever possible.
Live Events: Outdoor live events like sports games and live music will be able to have guests up to 20% capacity as opposed to less than 100 people in the purple tier.
Amusement Parks: Amusement parks in counties in the red tier will be able to have guests up to 15% capacity, even at their indoor facilities, though indoor dining should stay closed.
What is California's Tier System?
California uses the Blueprint for a Safer Economy to determine when a county needs to loosen or tighten reopening criteria based on the level of spread of COVID-19 within a community.
The state uses an adjusted case rate, positivity rate, and a health equity metric to determine a county's color-coded tier status -- from the least restrictive yellow, to orange, to red and the most restrictive purple tier. New tier assignments are announced on Tuesdays.
Because California has administered more than 2 million vaccine doses to people in vulnerable zip codes, the state's metrics for reopening were changed. Instead of needing less than 7.0 cases per 100,000 residents using a specific formula, a county now needs less than 10.0 cases per 100,000 residents. Once the state reaches 4 million doses to vulnerable areas, the criteria will change again.
On Tuesday, San Diego County's adjusted case rate was measured 6.8 and the week prior was measured at 8.8, meaning with two consecutive weeks below the 10.0 threshold, San Diego is officially in the red tier of the state's reopening plan.
The other two metrics used to determine a county's reopening level -- positivity rate and an equity metric -- were low enough on Tuesday to qualify San Diego County for a move into the even less restrictive orange tier. But San Diego would need a case rate below 4.0 for two consecutive weeks before that can happen.
What is California's vaccine equity metric?
Gov. Gavin Newsom announced last week that he would set aside 40% of vaccine for residents of some 400 ZIP codes the state deems most vulnerable based on metrics such as household income, access to health care and education levels.
The point is to tie reopening standards to ensuring that the people most impacted by the pandemic are protected against the virus. While race and ethnicity are not explicit factors in designating vaccinations, the ZIP codes overlap heavily with neighborhoods with higher populations of residents who are Black, Latino and Asian and Pacific Islander, officials said.
What comes next?
Officials throughout California are contemplating what things will look like in the nation’s most populous state once millions of people are vaccinated and they move to phase out restrictions on gatherings and businesses that have altered life for a year.
When officials last summer designed the four-tiered, yellow-to-purple system California now uses to decide whether people can dine indoors, go to the movies or gather with friends, they did not include a green tier — a recognition that a return to normalcy after the pandemic was far off. Now, Gov. Gavin Newsom’s administration is preparing to add one.
“The likelihood of hitting that green tier is probably sooner than some of us thought when we were looking at the summer and fall,” Dr. Mark Ghaly, California’s health secretary, said Thursday.
State officials rely on a complicated formula, including virus spread, to determine which activities are restricted in each county.
But a green designation won’t mean “go” for all things. Ghaly said such a label would still mean wearing masks and staying physically distant. He declined in an interview to offer more specifics on what restrictions would be maintained or to provide a threshold of vaccinations the state hopes to meet to allow such a go-ahead.
Earlier Thursday, state Public Health Director Dr. Tomas Aragón forecast that California could achieve herd immunity when about 75% of the population has been vaccinated, though that could change as the virus mutates.