Santa Barbara County moved from the most-restrictive purple to the less-restrictive red tier on March 17 after the state hit its first COVID-19 vaccination target of 2 million doses administered to residents in the lowest Health Equity Index quartile.
Hitting that target prompted the state to expand the criteria for moving from the purple to the red tier.
As a result, the county's adjusted case rate per 100,000 and Health Equity Metric fell into the red tier, while the testing positivity rate actually met the parameters for the orange tier.
The shift to the red tier in California’s Blueprint for a Safer Economy means that businesses that were already allowed to open can expand certain aspects of their operations, while businesses not allowed to operate can open up their doors, according to a report delivered March 16 to the Board of Supervisors.
Retail businesses can increase customers inside to 50% of capacity, as can shopping centers with food courts allowed to open at a reduced capacity, according to the report from Van Do-Reynoso, director of the Public Health Department.
Businesses that were only allowed to operate outdoors under the purple tier now can open indoors at 25% of capacity.
Those include restaurants, places of worship, movie theaters, museums, zoos and aquariums, although gyms are limited to 10% of capacity.
Do-Reynoso confirmed the shift to the red tier after telling supervisors that all the county’s COVID-19 data for the last two weeks is trending downward.
“Yes, the winter surge in cases is now over,” she said. “We’re seeing that our active cases, our daily new cases, our testing positivity, our case rates, hospitalizations, [patients in] ICUs and deaths all have decreased substantially.
“This is indeed good news and we can all celebrate these downward trends,” she said, but added county residents must still be vigilant about wearing masks, social distancing and keeping gatherings short, outside and limited, especially with spring break approaching and new variants of the virus circulating in the state and county.
“Now we just need to set our focus on moving towards the orange tier, and again, we can get there if we continue with all of our safety precautions,” Do-Reynoso said.
Fifth District Supervisor Steve Lavagnino asked what the county had to do to make it into the orange tier.
“We need to stay in the red for three weeks,” Do-Reynoso replied.
Responding to questions about traveling and gatherings from 1st District Supervisor Das Williams, Public Health Officer Dr. Henning Ansorg said the state is still restricting travel more than 120 miles from home.
Ansorg said those who return from such travel are asked to self-quarantine for 10 days, adding that it is especially required of those who return from traveling overseas, where they could encounter more dangerous strains of SARS-CoV-2.
“Even though we are able to open up more for more opportunities for entertainment and business, and we are all very glad about that, we have to be very, very diligent in order to avoid something that is happening in Europe,” he said. “They are experiencing exponential growth again and they are approaching their third wave.
“And the only way to not have that happen to us is despite … our hopefully more successful vaccination efforts, we need to wear our masks in public, we need to still socially distance,” Ansorg said. “And that is absolutely important for the coming weeks to prevent another surge.”
In a separate report on the county’s RISE, or Reopening in Safe Environment program, Assistant County Executive Officer Nancy Anderson noted that moving into the red tier will get sports and entertainment businesses going again.
Live entertainment venues can operate at 20% capacity with only in-state visitors allowed with advance reservations and primarily in-seat concessions but no concourse sales.
Workers at those venues also must be tested weekly, she said.
Bars must remain closed, but wineries, breweries and distilleries are allowed to operate outdoors, with guests required to make advance reservations for seating and tables only with a 90-minute limit, and they must be closed by 8 p.m.