SACRAMENTO COUNTY – For Californians moving forward during the coronavirus pandemic red, not green, means go. Sacramento County has given the “red” light for more businesses and schools to reopen having advanced in the state’s new color tier system.
The color tier system, created to be easier to understand, is based on rates of new cases and the rate at which tests come back positive. Sacramento County rose from the most restrictive tier, purple to red on September 29 after having a daily case rate of 6.6 per 100,000 and a positivity rate of 4.6 percent, for two consecutive weeks. Red status requires 4-7 per 100,000 daily new cases of COVID-19 and 5-8 percent positive tests. Counties have to stay in their designated tiers for three weeks before moving to the next, less restrictive one. The first purple tier is also referred to as “widespread,” the second red level is referred to as “substantial,” the third level is orange and is referred to as “moderate,” the fourth and least restrictive level is yellow and is referred to as “minimal.”
“We have seen a steady decline from mid-July,” said Sacramento County’s Public Health Officer Dr. Olivia Kasirye on the progress that’s being made locally.
Red tier status allows for gyms, churches and movie theaters to reopen with indoor operations with “modifications and certain restrictions.” Gyms, for instance, can only have people inside up to 10 percent of their capacity, restaurants and movie theaters can have a maximum of 25 percent of their capacity, or 100 people, whichever is fewer.
“What we are telling folks is that even though right now we can open for indoor dining, we’ll request that it be kept to household members only and they don’t have gatherings with people from other households, because that increases the risk,” Dr. Kasirye said.
“If they want to do that they are still be able to do that outdoors. The weather, except for some bad air days, is still good enough where people can dine outdoors,” she continued.
Prior to the new public health order, many local restaurants and other businesses like fitness centers and salons have been offering outdoor services to stay afloat during the pandemic. Many have erected temporary spaces. Others simply moved equipment outside. A number of community events have also been held in smaller, outdoor spaces.
Additionally, schools will be able to return to in-person learning for the first time since March.
“This will be for all grades, K-12. They don’t need to request approval from the County, so schools are preparing for that as well,” Dr. Kasirye said.
Previously, schools could apply for waivers that would allow them to have in-person classes. Primarily those were schools serving very young children and those with challenges that made distance learning difficult or impossible. Local school districts are deciding if and how they’ll return.
Some have said they’ll keep students at home, while others have said they’d do a hybrid model, where students are staggered between studying at home and being on campus, in order to maintain social distancing protocol.
Schools that do reopen will have support from a “dedicated team” to ensure they are meeting all the guidelines, Dr. Kasirye said. Some of the work will be over the phone and some will be at the school sites.
“It’s not regulatory,” she added. “‘It’s being able to be of assistance and helping them problem-solve, where they’re having questions about what they should do in certain situations. It’s sitting in a room to make sure that they maximize the safety measures and that they try as much as possible to keep the community safe.
“Another thing that we’re doing for the schools is since the state recommended that there be access to testing at least once every two months for staff, we are making that available without charge for staff so they can get so they can go get their testing. That also helps with providing that additional level of safety,” she shared.
More things are opening, but locals shouldn’t give up their masks and hand sanitizer just yet. There are still some trouble areas or hotspots that County health officials are concerned about.
“We do have some zip codes, 95823 and a couple more zip codes, that are within the city of Sacramento,” Dr. Kasirye shared. “That’s more a factor of more young people and also the fact that some of these are disadvantaged neighborhoods, so our goal is to do more outreach with the community-based organizations that we’re partnering with.
“Since our numbers have gone down, we’re getting about a hundred cases per day now. We’re actually able to contact every single one of them and make sure that they are able to isolate safely and provide services if they need additional services,” she said.
Testing is more readily available today than it was at the height of the pandemic. Even those who test negative shouldn’t take that immunity from future exposure.
“It doesn’t mean if you get a negative you can go out and party,” Dr. Kasirye said. “It just means you are safe for that day, that moment.”
Six or seven months into the pandemic, there’s still COVID-related misconceptions.
“We still need to do education for two reasons,” Dr. Kasirye said. “One there are those who still have doubts and then there are also those who have message fatigue and that’s why we launched the new campaign.”
The Turn Sacramento Orange by Halloween campaign seeks to have Sacramento County reach the orange tier, with just 1-3.9 daily new cases and 2 to 4.9 percent positive tests, by October 31. As part of the effort, a website: www.TurnSacramentoOrange.com, was created to provide information on how businesses, hospitals, grocery stores and others can help push the county into the next tier.
“Our hope is that if we can continue the trend that we’re on, we can actually meet the criteria for the next tier by the end of October, but that would mean all of us being able to work together so that’s why we’re continuing with the message,” Dr. Kasirye said.
“Of course there are some places and complaints that we hear about where people are not complying, but from what I see the message has gotten through and for the most part I see people are wearing their face coverings and that they are taking the measures of maintaining the 6-foot separation because they see it in the numbers we report in terms of, yes we are facing COVID-19 as a community and we have to be careful, we have to protect our most vulnerable.”
Sacramento County will reach yellow status when it has less than one new case per day and a positive test rate of less than 2 percent. Counties can also slide back into previous tiers and restrictions would be reinstituted based on those levels.
By Genoa Barrow | OBSERVER Senior Staff Writer