Counties in California roll back reopenings

COVID-19 numbers continue to rise throughout the state, pushing many counties back a tier.

Eleven counties in California have regressed to a more restrictive coronavirus reopening tier, according to weekly data from Gov. Gavin Newsom’s Blueprint for a Safer Economy published on Tuesday.

San Diego, Sacramento and Stanislaus counties have all moved back into the purple tier, the most restrictive stage in Newsom’s newest reopening system. Counties in this tier have “widespread” COVID-19 cases and are mandated to close many indoor business operations such as bars, schools, theme parks, and mall food courts. This is the current tier that more populous counties like Los Angeles County finds themselves in.

In addition to purple, Newsom’s reopening system includes three more colored tiers to indicate the spread of COVID-19 cases in the county: red (substantial), orange (moderate) and yellow (minimal). Of the 11 counties that have regressed, 5 of them returned to red and 3 of them returned to orange. This means some of their indoor businesses can be open, given that they modify operations for social distancing.

But the regression of these counties has put many students on edge. Jessica Raquel, a UCLA junior English major living in San Diego, said she and her family have been taking as many health and safety measures as possible. “We’ve all gotten our flu vaccines and we’ve been taking all the precautionary measures released by the CDC,” she said.

Rita Burke, an assistant professor in Clinical Preventive Medicine at the Keck School of Medicine, said moving out of the purple tier really comes down to individuals remaining vigilant in fighting COVID fatigue and continuing to wear masks and practice social distancing.

“Yes, it’s hard, but we’re doing it for the greater good,” she said. “The more principled we are around it, the sooner we’ll be able to get back to ‘normal’ and to reopen our businesses and our schools.”

Burke also added that for those who are choosing to travel during the holiday season, although discouraged by the county, it is best to quarantine for 14 days once getting to their destination and upon their return. She said it’s important to remember that a negative COVID test result means that the person was negative only on that day, and because of this potential “false sense of security,” quarantining is the safest way to go about travel.

With the recent additions of San Diego and the other two counties in the purple tier, almost a quarter of all California counties, including Los Angeles County, are under the most restrictive phase of reopening.

The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health announced on Tuesday that there were 25 new deaths and 2,318 new confirmed cases in the county with COVID-19 hospitalizations expected to increase.

“The number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 each day increased to 800 this past week and now nears 900,” the county news release said. “A month ago in early-October, the daily number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 was between 650 and 725 patients.”

This recent uptick in cases and the increase in private gatherings due to the holidays and recent athletic victories have pushed Los Angeles County from moving to the red tier for at least another four weeks.

“Recovery cannot continue when you have 1000+ new cases each day that partially stem from people taking avoidable risks like indoor gatherings with many people from different households,” the official Los Angeles Public Health account wrote in a tweet Tuesday morning.

Ryan Bevel, a San Diego State University junior studying economics, said he was most concerned about the actions schools would be taking in the future in regards to COVID concerns, noting that choosing to live in an off-campus apartment would require leasing timelines that may end before universities speak out about their semester plans.

“As a student, transparency from the university to the students is very essential,” Bevel said. “Universities and other official governing bodies should be transparent with their project for COVID, because it’s kind of affecting a lot of students and student families financially because they don’t really know what housing risk to take.”

Sarah Van Orman, chief health officer at USC, shared her thoughts on the topic.

“Obviously we don’t know yet what spring will look like. But as cases rise, we’ve become concerned. We’re going to be developing some specific recommendations.”

In an interview with Annenberg Media, Van Orman said that an email is expected to be sent out over break with more details on the spring semester. Currently, they are waiting for additional guidance from the county.