Santa Clara County will move into the state’s less restrictive red tier Wednesday as cases of COVID-19 continue to drop in the region.
The announcement came Tuesday afternoon from Dr. Sara Cody, the county’s health officer, and County Counsel James Williams.
Under the red tier, indoor dining and religious services can reopen at 25% capacity, and retail and grocery stores could accommodate 50% capacity. Gyms will be allowed to open at 10% capacity. California’s tiered reopening system adjusts the activities allowed to resume as COVID-19 cases fluctuate. The county’s mandatory travel quarantine will also be lifted.
“We are coming out of a devastating winter surge that claimed the lives of too many county residents,” Cody said. “But we now find ourselves on firmer footing.”
County health leaders and business owners have been moving quickly since the possible shift was reported last week in response to a downward trend in COVID-19 cases. They relaxed restrictions on youth and adult recreational sports to allow outdoor games with social distancing regulations. The county also eased rules for outdoor gatherings, including religious services, and schools can follow state guidance for reopening in-person instruction.
Though the move is welcomed news for many small eateries looking to stay afloat, 25% capacity might not mean much for smaller operations.
For Kirk Vartan, owner of A Slice of New York pizzeria, things won’t change much from a few months ago.
He said he’s been able to stay open due in part to his loyal customers, but will not open his doors for indoor dining. Vartan’s San Jose storefront is too small to have a meaningful return to indoor dining without putting his workers at risk. His Sunnyvale location is much bigger—with seating up to 55 people—but he’ll keep that restaurant closed for indoor dining too.
“Our focus is on safety and protecting our team,” said Vartan. “Honestly, there is no upside for us because it’s all risk. Even if there is reward with more business, it’s not worth the risk for us.”
The shift to the red tier comes as Gov. Gavin Newsom announced this week that the state’s positivity rate has dropped to 2.3% compared to a peak of 14% over the 2020 holiday season. The state has also reported that Santa Clara County has an adjusted case rate of 6.7 per 100,000, allowing the county to move to the red tier.
“We could have not gotten to where we are today without every resident in our county doing their part,” said County Supervisor Susan Ellenberg at Tuesday’s news conference.
Counties must meet the state’s adjusted case rate criteria for two consecutive weeks to move down a tier. The county however warned that just because the state has relaxed restrictions on activities does not make them safe, and encouraged residents to wear masks when going out and to follow social distancing guidelines.
San Jose resident and CrossFit instructor Austin Begiebing has dealt with reopening and closing his gym in Milpitas multiple times as the county moved in and out of the purple tier last year. He’s been forced to set up his classes outdoors, which meant buying outdoor tents, faux grass and other outdoor equipment. That set him back at least $1,500 on top of paying the rent with decreased membership fees coming in.
Begiebing said he’s “excited” to move into the red tier, but won’t be having regular classes inside anytime soon.
“I’m excited about the move to the red tier but cautious about fully moving indoors too quickly,” Begiebing said. “We’ll keep our tent and turf outdoors while running some classes inside. If we stay in the red or progress to less restrictive tiers over the next couple of months, we’ll make the full shift inside.”
Marin and San Mateo counties already announced last week they were moving into the less restrictive tier. Santa Clara County could be joined by San Francisco and Napa counties as early as this week.
As of Tuesday, the county has reported 110,755 COVID-19 cases and 1,781 deaths.