(Photo via Duncan Cumming/Flickr)

As local health officials had anticipated, Contra Costa County was moved Tuesday from the “orange tier” in the state’s Blueprint for a Safer Economy plan to the more restrictive “red tier,” given increasing COVID-19 case-rate numbers, positive-test rates and hospitalizations.

Though many of the “red tier” restrictions were brought back last week by county health officials, Tuesday’s official return to the red tier reintroduces a few more this seek, including restricting gyms and fitness centers to 10 percent of their indoor capacity, and requiring closure of communal indoor pools and must indoor family entertainment centers, such as bowling alleys.

Amusement parks cannot operate, and most live outdoor theatrical, musical or artistic performances are prohibited.

Among red-tier limits brought back last week are retail store indoor operations maximum capacity at 50 percent, or 100 people, whichever is lower; indoor shopping mall food courts at 25 percent of capacity or 100 people, whichever is fewer; having office workspaces operate remotely; prohibiting outdoor bars, except where allowed under restaurant guidance with drinks as part of a meal; indoor dining at a maximum of 25 percent venue
capacity or 100 people, whichever is fewer (down from 50 percent occupancy or 200 people); indoor movie theaters 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 at maximum 25 percent building capacity or 100 people (down from 50 percent or 200 people); cardrooms and satellite wagering sites prohibited from operating indoors; and indoor college lectures and student gatherings at 25 percent of venue capacity, or 100 people, whichever is lower.

Contra Costa County Health Director Anna Roth and Health Officer Dr. Chris Farnitano told county supervisors last week that a move back to the red tier this week was likely, given increasing local case numbers and hospitalizations. Soon after, Contra Costa Health Services reimposed many red-tier-level restrictions.

The specific trigger for Contra Costa’s move back into the red tier was the seven-day daily average of new COVID-19 cases in the county.

That number as of Tuesday is 5.3 new cases per 100,000 population. That “adjusted case rate” is up from 3.7 new cases per 100,000 population recorded on Oct. 27, when Contra Costa moved to the orange tier.

Other data also reflect an alarming rise in local cases, Roth said. On Monday, there were 46 people hospitalized with COVID-19 in Contra Costa, she said — the highest one-day total since September, and a 200 percent increase over the past four weeks.

On Monday, health officers from Contra Costa, Alameda, Marin, San Mateo, Santa Clara and Santa Cruz counties jointly issued recommendations for minimizing COVID-19 spread during the holidays, when families and friends typically gather.

Recommendations for gatherings include keeping them outside as much as possible, limiting gatherings to no more than three households; gathering for no more than two hours; refraining from singing and shouting that can spread the virus faster than normal speaking; and limiting gatherings to one per family and avoiding multiple gatherings involving multiple households.

Farnitano on Tuesday told supervisors that news of successful vaccine tests is encouraging.

County health officials have been testing vaccine distribution by moving flu vaccines to various county COVID-19 testing sites (where flu shots are available). But it will be several months, at least, before the general public will be able to receive a COVID-19 vaccine. Front-line health care workers and the most susceptible members of the public — seniors in care homes, for example — would receive the vaccine first, Farnitano said.

The move to the red tier will not affect plans of county school districts to return to at least some in-person classroom teaching. Such “hybrid” plans including both in-person and distance learning are set to begin in the Mount Diablo Unified School District on Jan. 11, and in the San Ramon Valley Unified School District on Jan. 5.