It’ll soon be easier for California counties to proceed with reopening and move into less restrictive COVID-19 tiers

California is easing its rules on when counties can move through COVID-19 tiers that allow more businesses like gyms and movie theaters to reopen, officials said Thursday.

The state has been using a four-tier, color-coded system — the Blueprint for a Safer Economy — to guide when schools and businesses can open based on how widespread the virus is in each county.The changes will make it easier for counties to proceed through those tiers and reopen their economies by taking vaccine numbers into account.

Currently, a county can go from the most restrictive purple tier to the red tier when it passes several metrics, including having 7 or fewer daily new infections per 100,000 residents.

Once more vaccines are deployed to California’s hardest-hit communities, the state will modify that metric to 10 new cases or fewer, officials said.

The change will likely come “sometime in the next week or two,” when the state expects to hit a milestone of 2 million doses delivered to the vulnerable areas of the state, California Health and Human Services Secretary Mark Ghaly said in a Thursday media briefing.

The state announced Wednesday it’s sending more COVID-19 vaccine doses to areas disproportionately impacted by the pandemic, a move meant to slow the spread of the virus while the state works to ramp up vaccinations. Eligible people in 400 ZIP codes will get 40% of the state’s vaccine supply.

As of Thursday, the state had sent out 1.6 million doses to those underserved communities.

California’s reopening rules will be updated again when that number reaches 4 million doses, Ghaly said. Passing that threshold will trigger changes to when counties can move to the orange and yellow tiers.

A majority of California’s 58 counties are currently in the purple tier, including all of Southern California. Los Angeles and Orange counties are both getting closer to being able to move to the red tier.

L.A. County’s adjusted case rate was 7.2 new cases per 100,000 people Wednesday, while Orange County’s was at 7.6.

Being in the red tier means that movie theaters and gyms can reopen and indoor dining can resume, among other changes.

The orange tier lets professional sports venues welcome back audiences outdoors, while the yellow tier would let theme parks like Disneyland reopen.

“Our goal is to get to the day when the Blueprint is no longer needed,” Gov. Gavin Newsom said. “As more people are vaccinated and more vaccines are available, especially in our most impacted communities, we can envision a day when California can enter the ‘green tier’ – in which strict public health measures will no longer be needed,” continued Governor Newsom.”

Ghaly said that if a county has been at a case rate between 7 and 10 for two weeks straight on the day the state hits 2 million doses given at underserved communities, those counties can immediately move to the less restrictive red tier.

“Businesses large and small across California have taken extraordinary steps to protect their employees and their customers,” said Dee Dee Myers, senior advisor to Gov. Gavin Newsom. “Their hard work, along with the efforts of Californians to abide by ongoing guidance, has allowed us to lower infection rates, facilitate equitable vaccine distribution and create an accelerated path toward reopening.”

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