Some local businesses could begin to expand indoor operations as early as Tuesday after Kern County’s coronavirus metrics fell below state benchmarks for seven consecutive days.
Restaurants, churches, movie theaters, gyms and personal care services are among the organizations that would be allowed to reopen indoors if Kern County moves from the first tier on the state’s four-tiered COVID-19 classification system into the second tier. Retail businesses would also be allowed to expand from 25 percent capacity to 50 percent capacity in the new tier, which is color coded as red (the first tier is coded as purple).
In what could be welcome news for many parents across the county, schools will be allowed to hold in-person instruction two weeks after the county moves into the red tier.
The announcement was heralded as fantastic news by Public Health Services Assistant Director Brynn Carrigan.
Supervisor Zack Scrivner credited the community for the county’s reduced rates of COVID-19 spread.
“The numbers are bearing the fruits of not just the efforts of this board, but also the community,” he said. “The community has really stepped up and recognized that this disease continues to be transmitted in our social circles. This isn’t something that is being transmitted widespread through our businesses. It really comes down to personal responsibility.”
Kern County is now halfway through a two-week countdown and has met state benchmarks for seven days straight. Gov. Gavin Newsom has instituted three metrics all counties must track in order to reopen businesses as part of a plan known as the Blueprint for a Safer Economy.
Under the plan, counties can move from the red tier if the average case rate over a seven-day period falls below 7 new cases per 100,000 people per day. The testing positivity rate must be below 8 percent. And, in a new metric designed to reduce social inequality, the testing positivity rate for the bottom 25 percent of census tracts must also be below 8 percent.
On Tuesday, the Health Department announced Kern County’s case rate is 5.5 new cases per 100,000, even with an artificial increase due to the county’s average number of tests falling below the state average. Kern’s positivity rate is 4.7 percent and the health equity rate was 6.2 percent.
The state updates all counties’ metrics every Tuesday, and the numbers include a seven-day lag.
By next Tuesday, Kern should know its fate. The county has been in the purple tier for five weeks straight and many businesses have struggled under the restrictions.
Supervisor Mike Maggard spoke hopefully about moving into the third tier, color coded as orange, as quickly as possible, which would allow even more economic activity.
“I just want people to have this sense that we are on a trajectory to possibly get there sooner rather than later,” he said, continuing by voicing concerns over backsliding if the county should move into the red tier. “It will be devastating to the operations of these businesses if they are told to turn on their operation and then to turn off their operation.”
The county has to be in the red tier for two straight weeks before it can move into the orange tier. The county could also backslide into the purple tier if COVID-19 metrics worsen.