Some Contra Costa County restaurants are choosing to incur health order violation fees rather than close their doors to indoor and outdoor dining during the region's stay-at-home order, according to the county Board of Supervisors. (Photo via Flickr)

In the face of rising COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations in Contra Costa County over the past week, county public health officials on Wednesday tightened restrictions on business openings and public gatherings, starting Friday.

County health officials on Tuesday told the Board of Supervisors the rising COVID-19 case counts — reflecting trends in the Bay Area, state and nation — and specific numeric metrics could result in a return of Contra Costa County to the “red tier” of California’s Blueprint for a Safer Economy from the less restrictive “orange tier.”

That regression could come as early as this coming Tuesday, only two weeks after the county had moved into the orange tier.

The Oct. 27 move into the orange tier triggered an expansion of community reopening activities in the county. But since then, the average daily number of new cases in the county has grown substantially, county health officials said.

Though Contra Costa remains in the orange tier for now, some of the changes announced Wednesday as part of the new health order are the same or similar to red-tier restrictions.

Outdoor bars are again prohibited, except where allowed under restaurant guidance with drinks as part of a meal; indoor dining returns to a maximum of 25 percent venue capacity or 100 people, whichever is fewer (down from 50 percent occupancy or 200 people; indoor movie theaters can operate at a maximum 25 percent occupancy or 100 people, whichever is fewer (down from 50 percent or 200 people); indoor religious services and similar cultural gatherings back to maximum 25 percent building capacity 100 people (down from 50 percent or 200 people); and cardrooms and satellite wagering sites again cannot operate indoors. Since Oct. 27, these had been allowed to operate indoors at 25 percent capacity).

The new health order also limits the number of spectators at professional or college games to 25 people from no more than three different households. This is consistent with the county’s guidance on private social gatherings, said Dr. Chris Farnitano, the county’s health officer, in a statement.

The state allows counties to impose stricter standards than outlined in the various “tiers” if local health officials deem that necessary. And other Bay Area counties have made similar decisions in the name of caution; last week, San Francisco County pulled back on its timeline for opening, and Alameda and Santa Clara Counties have reopened more slowly than the state tier system allows.

“We believe these measures are necessary to reduce the spread of COVID in our community,” Farnitano said in the statement.

Other activities not specified in the new health order will still be allowed under orange-tier criteria, Farnitano said. These include indoor swimming pools and indoor family entertainment centers (including bowling centers and climbing-wall gyms) that can continue at 25 percent capacity.

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