By Ann Peterson
(Updated Wednesday, Oct. 28) Tice Creek’s indoor pools could reopen soon after Contra Costa County learned Tuesday that it hit the COVID-19 benchmarks needed to move into the orange tier, which allows them to reopen more businesses and increase capacities at others.
To move to orange, for two straight weeks, Contra Costa had to have less than 4 new COVID cases per 100,000 residents, a positivity rate less than 5% and an equity metric (measuring positive tests for residents of the lowest quartile of the Healthy Places Index census tracts) of 5.2%. The county edged into the orange tier with an adjusted new case rate of 3.7, positivity rate of 1.9% and equity measure of 3.9%, according to Contra Costa Health Services.
At the orange tier, transmission of COVID-19 is considered to be moderate – an improvement over the substantial spread in the red tier. (The next tier down, also the lowest, is yellow, which represents minimal spread.)
Contra Costa will remain at the orange tier through at least Nov. 10, but if it fails to sustain its new case numbers, positivity rate or equity metric, it could fall back down to the red tier.
The orange tier allows indoor pools — such as Tice Creek — to reopen with capacity limitations. But first, the county must provide operating guidelines, which Jeff Matheson, director of Resident Services, said Wednesday he was still waiting to receive. Matheson said he hopes the pools can reopen next week but first he has to confirm what the guidelines are and how they need to be implemented.
Family entertainment centers, including bowling alleys, also can reopen indoors at 25% capacity.
Capacity limits also expand for some already open businesses. Restaurants and places of worship can open indoors at 50% capacity (or a maximum of 200 people, whichever is fewer). Museums, zoos and aquariums can reopen indoors for 50% capacity, too. The Fitness Center capacity can expand to 25% capacity. Wineries and cardrooms also are allowed indoors at capacities of 25%.
Bars and breweries can reopen but outdoors only.
Matheson said the Fitness Center will not immediately jump “straight up” to a full 25% capacity. “With our high-risk population, we feel it’s better to make a more measured adjustment. We want to do it as safely as possible while still giving as many people reservation times as we can.”
That means slowly introducing classes and looking at ways to use the studios and gyms while maintaining social distancing and other safety measures. “We will make changes throughout the month. It will be more gradual,” Matheson said.
Matheson also has requested county guidance about what else can open under the orange tier. In particular, he’s inquiring about the art studios and whether the Oak Room is classified as a cardroom.
Concerts also are allowed outdoors with audiences of up to 50 people, “but we need to see the guidelines on that. There’s a lot to unpack in here,” Matheson added.
Matheson also is keeping in mind how California’s Blueprint for a Safer Economy works. If Contra Costa’s numbers slide back to red-tier levels, the county could force them to close facilities or lower capacities again.
“The last thing we want to do is yo-yo with people,” he said. “We want to be cautious and gradually introduce these things, especially because if we do need to scale back, then we can do it with minimal disruptions for the residents.”
Counties have the option to maintain tougher restrictions than the state permits. Last week, Santa Clara did just that when it opted not to allow 49ers fans to return to Levi Stadium, even though the orange tier permits outdoor stadium audiences for pro sports of up to 25% capacity.
Last week, Contra Costa trailed only San Francisco (0.88%), Alameda (1.4%) and Santa Clara (1.6%) for positivity rates in the Bay Area.
Contra Costa will remain in the orange tier for at least two weeks. The state then could move the county to the less-restrictive yellow tier or back to the more restrictive red tier, if the metrics fall into one of those tiers during the two consecutive weeks. The state updates the numbers every Tuesday.
Contra Costa Health Services noted that moving to the orange tier was made possible because the county tested more residents than the state average. “California adjusts the case rates of high-testing counties downward to reflect their work controlling the virus,” CCHS explained in a news release. “Without that adjustment, Contra Costa’s per-capita case rate this week would have been 4.1, which would not qualify for the orange tier.”
About 3,500 people get tested every day for COVID-19 in Contra Costa, according to CCHS.