Restaurants and congregations in Santa Clara County will be able to reopen for indoor service on Wednesday under a revised public health order that loosens many of the restrictions that have been in place since March.
The revised risk-reduction order, which county leaders discussed at a news conference Tuesday afternoon, recognizes the county's recent move into the "orange risk" level — also known as Tier 3 — in the state's Blueprint for a Safer Economy. The "moderate" risk level allows more businesses to reopen, albeit with some restrictions to ensure social distancing.
In highlighting the revised order, both county Counsel James Williams and Health Officer Dr. Sara Cody emphasized that some of the activities that will now be allowed for the first time since March continue to pose a risk of COVID-19 transmission. To reduce the threat, the county is requiring restaurants to limit occupancy to 25% capacity or a maximum of 100 people, depending on which number is smaller.
The same restriction will be imposed on other indoor gatherings, including movie theaters, congregations and cultural gatherings, according to the county.
"It's a really important limitation that we put in place to help try to reduce the density, to help try to reduce the risk for the community," Williams said. "And we will be out there with our enforcement team ensuring that."
The order also allows outdoor activities with up to 200 people, consistent with state guidance, and specifies that there are no capacity limitations for malls and other retail businesses. It will allow college sports activities to resume, though they have to do so without fans and while following specific county protocols that require testing, face coverings and small cohorts. The order will also allow museums and zoos to open at 50% capacity.
The county's ability to loosen business restrictions reflects its recent success in containing the number of COVID-19 cases. The county's case count, Cody said at the Tuesday news conference, is now 3.7 cases per 100,000 residents, below the state's threshold of 4 cases per 100,000 for the orange tier.
The county's overall positivity rate is now 1.7%, well below the state benchmark of between 2% and 4.9% to qualify for the moderate tier. Cody also noted that residents in the county's most disadvantaged quartile have a positivity rate of 3.8%, which meets the state's new "health equity metric" criteria that requires a rate below 5.2% for this quartile.
The promising trends have allowed the county to be the first large county in California to move into the orange tier, Cody said.
"I think what this says is that we have been working extraordinarily hard in our county for a long time," Cody said. "We were a bit stricter for a bit longer than many other jurisdictions, in particular the larger jurisdictions in southern California. And now that is paying off."
With the revised order, Cody said, the county is "switching from a strategy where we're controlling the environment by keeping a lot closed, to shifting the responsibility to each of us as individuals to do everything that we can to follow the core principles of wearing a mask, staying in a well-ventilated place and keeping a distance."
Williams said all businesses in the county will also be required to submit an updated social-distancing protocol within the next 15 days.
He called the county's move to the orange tier "significant" and said it will be up to residents and businesses, collectively, to adhere to the new safety protocols and ensure that the county doesn't relinquish its recent gains.
"If we fall back for just a couple of weeks, the state will move us back into the red tier," Williams said. "As a community, we've made tremendous progress but it's been slow and hard-fought progress."
Find comprehensive coverage on the Midpeninsula's response to the new coronavirus by Palo Alto Online, the Mountain View Voice and the Almanac here.