After digesting the state's new reopening plan for counties over the weekend, county leaders had a message Monday morning: The path to reopening Kern County is less about businesses taking certain actions and more about what individuals need to do.
Under the state’s new approach, reopening is structured to allow more business activity within counties as they achieve a sustained reduction in COVID-19 cases, the county officials explained. Kern businesses, for the most part, are complying with all the safeguards required by the state to prevent infection and are not seen as “a catalyst to infection rates," said Ryan Alsop, the county’s administrative officer. It’s family gatherings and group interactions that are causing spread of the virus, he said, urging the public to take responsibility by avoiding such gatherings.
“At some point government’s responsibility ends and personal responsibility begins, and we are at that point,” Alsop said. “People need to be personally responsible for their own public health practices. We need your help.”
During a news conference, Alsop outlined how the state will measure the county’s progress on virus transmission in order to advance through the four tiers for reopening, each with less restrictions.
Here’s what to know about that process:
WHERE ARE WE NOW?
Kern County and 37 other counties are starting out in the most restrictive tier, the purple-colored “widespread" category.
Under this tier, restrictions on businesses ordered by Gov. Gavin Newsom's administration in recent weeks remain in place with a few exceptions. As of Monday, salons and barbershops can now reopen with certain limitations, and shopping malls and libraries can open at 25 percent capacity.
WHAT'S ALLOWED IN THE NEXT TIER?
If the county successfully advances into the red tier in the coming weeks, those restrictions will loosen.
In the red tier, nail salons can reopen indoors and restaurants can seat people inside at 25 percent capacity.
Gyms can operate inside at 10 percent capacity and churches and other houses of worship can restart services inside at 25 percent capacity or 100 people, whichever is fewer. Movie theaters and zoos and museums can also reopen at 25 percent capacity.
And after a county is in the red tier for two weeks, schools can reopen.
WHAT WILL IT TAKE TO GET INTO THE RED TIER?
To move into the red tier, Kern County must meet the criteria for it for two consecutive weeks. That means the county must average no more than seven new daily cases of COVID-19 per 100,000 residents over a seven-day period (which, for Kern, is no more than an average 65 new daily cases) and achieve an average positivity rate of 8 percent or lower over a seven-day period. The county must meet both metrics to move tiers — meeting only one will result in remaining in the purple tier.
Under the state's new method for calculating those metrics, Kern County on Monday was averaging about 125 new daily COVID-19 cases, or 14 per 100,000 residents, and the positivity rate was about 10 percent, Kern County Public Health Services Director Matt Constantine said.
The state plans to assess and update counties' metrics on a weekly basis, starting Tuesday.
(The seven-day period for both metrics is calculated using a seven-day lag to allow for a more complete dataset. Infections among state and federal prisoners will not be counted in the metrics, according to the state's guidelines).
To move into the orange tier, which comes after red, Kern must report for two weeks an average of 35 or fewer new daily cases, or less than four per 100,000 residents, and must maintain an average positivity rate under 5 percent. In the orange tier, businesses already open can expand their indoor capacity to 50 percent in most cases and non-essential offices can reopen, though telecommuting will still be encouraged. Wineries and family entertainment centers can reopen indoor operations with limitations and cardrooms and satellite wagering can also restart inside with restrictions.
The least restrictive tier, yellow, allows no more than nine new cases per day and a positivity rate under 2 percent. In the yellow tier, most business sectors can increase the amount of activity allowed to happen indoors.
Notably, even the yellow tier still contains some restrictions and at this time the state has given no indication on how long the system will be in effect.
HOW SOON MIGHT KERN COUNTY MOVE INTO THE RED TIER?
No one so far will hazard a guess, but Alsop said he estimates the orange tier, which comes after red, is likely to be months off.
The state requires all counties to remain in a tier for a minimum of three weeks before advancing to the next tier, except for the purple tier. Counties may move out of the purple tier in as soon as two weeks if they achieve the appropriate metrics for another tier that entire time.
WHAT CAN THE PUBLIC DO?
Do not gather with friends and family members outside your household.
Wear a mask.
If you have symptoms, stay home and avoid contact with others.