SANTA CRUZ — Santa Cruz County has returned to the purple tier through the conclusion of the state’s Regional Stay-At-Home order, and County of Santa Cruz Health Services Agency spokeswoman Corinne Hyland thinks the jurisdiction is ready.
“Daily, we monitor what our ICUs look like and it seems like the (hospitalizations) have been leveling off,” she said. “The trend does seem to be continuing, so I do think we are in that place (to exit) at least for now. We can always move more strictly again.”
Hyland said that Santa Cruz County Health Officer Dr. Gail Newel has a history of being aligned with state guidance, so it’s unlikely she would issue a more restrictive local order.
“It’s worth a try for our businesses and for our economic recovery,” Hyland explained. “We’re still gonna be in purple, or widespread, so a lot of safety modifications still need to happen. I think it’s worth easing off and seeing how it goes.”
A prepared statement from the California Department of Public Health Monday morning officially lifted the Regional Stay-At-Home order for all regions, meaning that most of the state will be returning to the most severe tier of the Blueprint for a Safer Economy framework.
The Northern California and the Greater Sacramento regions had exited the order in recent weeks. But the Bay Area, San Joaquin and Southern California regions — regions that have faced some of the worst hospital and ICU capacities since the order went into effect in early December — can now, somewhat, return to normalcy.
“Four-week ICU capacity projections for these three regions are above 15%, the threshold that allows regions to exit the order,” CDPH officials said.
County Health Officer Dr. Gail Newel predicted that the Bay Area region, at least, would be alleviated of the restrictions of the order Friday. During a press conference, Newel said data indicated the region’s ICU capacity could be strong enough to exit the order within the next two weeks.
This means that services and activities such as outdoor dining and personal services may immediately reopen with modifications. Many non-essential indoor business operations remain closed, such as bars, breweries, wineries and distilleries where no meals are provided or entertainment locations like aquariums and amusement parks.
Retail, like bookstores, clothing and shoe stores and convenience stores can function at 20% capacity. Grocery stores can function at 35% capacity. Gyms can offer outdoor services and classes. Hotels remain closed for in-state reservations unless used for COVID-19 mitigation and containment measures, accommodations for essential workers or those displaced as a result of fire or other emergencies. Hotels are open for non-essential, out-of-state reservations as long as the reservation is at least the minimum time period for quarantine — 10 days with no symptoms, 14 days with symptoms.
The purple tier, or the “widespread” tier, is assigned to counties with more than seven new daily cases per 100,000 and a test positivity rate of more than 8%. At this time, Santa Cruz County is recording more than 71 new COVID-19 cases per day per 100,000 and a positivity rate of 10.3%, statewide metrics in the county’s coronavirus dashboard shows. When the county entered into the Regional Stay-At-Home order, it was recording 24.7 new COVID-19 cases per 100,000 and a positivity rate of 5.6%.
Still, California Public Health Officer Dr. Tomás Aragón said in the statement that he feels the state is ready to come out of the order.
“Californians heard the urgent message to stay home as much as possible and accepted that challenge to slow the surge and save lives,” Aragón said. “Together, we changed our activities knowing our short-term sacrifices would lead to longer-term gains. COVID-19 is still here and still deadly, so our work is not over, but it’s important to recognize our collective actions saved lives and we are turning a critical corner.”
Statewide, three counties are in the red tier (Alpine, Mariposa and Trinity counties) and one county is in the orange tier (Sierra County).
Tier assignments can change any day of the week, and can happen more than once a week when the CDPH determines the most recent data indicates immediate action is given, the Blueprint for a Safer Economy page reminds the public.
Across California, the state is reporting 105 new COVID-19 cases per day per 100,000 people, a 15.2% test positivity rate and a 4.5% ICU capacity. This pandemic is far from over, though positive signs show that the virus is spreading at a slower rate across the state, Aragón said.
“It is still critical that Californians continue to wear masks when they leave their homes, maintain physical distance of at least 6 feet, wash their hands frequently, avoid gatherings and mixing with other households, follow all state and local health department guidance and get the vaccine when it’s their turn,” officials included.
Hyland agreed, stating at a local level that the message has always been that the community cannot let its guard down.
“Even those vaccinated still have to wear a mask,” she said. “Also, reducing group gatherings (is key). That’s where we are seeing transmission, (when) people are gathering in groups.”
As the county enters the purple tier, its focus is to get the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines out as quickly and as equitably as possible, Hyland said.
“A lot of that depends on the availability of vaccine,” she said. “We are really putting efforts into making sure we get the vaccine out through our various systems.”
Gov. Gavin Newsom will be live at noon on Facebook and other social media outlets to discuss the cancellation of the Regional Stay-At-Home order.
This is a developing story. Check back for updates.