Despite widespread outbreaks and the rapid proliferation of a new, more transmissible coronavirus variant from the U.K., California’s stringent stay-at-home mandate has lifted as of Monday.
Counties across the Golden State will see a return to the tiered assessment system that was previously used to provide risk analysis and guidelines for stores, restaurants, salons and other businesses.
The regional stay-at-home order—which was implemented Dec. 3 to drive down infection rates where hospital ICUs had fewer than 15 percent of beds available for new patients—prevented private gatherings, closed many sector’s operations and required 100 percent masking. As of Monday, though, counties across the state reported that they project ICU availability to rise to over 15 percent over the course of the next four weeks, pulling California out of this strict degree of lockdown.
However, 54 counties across the state remain in the purple risk tier, denoting “widespread” infection rates. Just three counties, Mariposa, Alpine and Trinity, were characterized as red or “substantial” in risk, while just one, Sierra County, met the qualifications for orange or “moderate” risk. Those counties still demonstrating severe, purple-tier risk will still be subject to closures on many non-essential indoor businesses, while restrictions begin to ease slightly across the few counties that are faring better.
“The goal of this announcement is to socialize our projections, as well as illuminate and further advance a deeper understanding of what today means and what it doesn’t mean,” California Governor Gavin Newsom said at a briefing Monday, explaining that statewide numbers indicate a “flattening of the curve” with regard to new infections, a reduction in hospitalization rates, increased testing and higher vaccination rates. Still, he reminded residents, “we’re not out of the woods.”
Purple-tier counties will see restaurants open for outdoor dining, though bars will remain closed. Salons and competitive sports can resume operations with modifications. Retail stores must operate at 25 percent capacity while their regions are characterized as having widespread infection risk, though that number jumps to 50 percent once a county enters the red, or substantial, risk category. Newsom said that tier classifications will be updated twice per week, with potential changes taking place on Tuesday.
The optimistic outlook no doubt came as a surprise for California residents, who have seen more than 3 million cases and over 37,000 deaths. What’s more, California has seen more cases of the mutated Covid-19 strain first found in the U.K. than any other state in the nation. On Monday afternoon, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 90 cases of the variant in the state, which Dr. Anthony Fauci said is even more easily spread than the original SARS-CoV-2 specimen and potentially more lethal.
Newsom said that the state has tripled its administration of vaccines since Saturday, disseminating more than half of the 4.1 million doses that were shipped into the state this weekend. He estimated that one million more shots will be doled out over the next 10 days, with seniors age 65 and older now eligible, in addition to healthcare workers and first responders, food and agricultural workers, teachers and school employees. Once those groups have had their turn, groups will be prioritized by age, beginning with the oldest first.
In Los Angeles County, which has become the national epicenter for the virus, more than 6,600 new confirmed Covid cases were reported on Monday alone. Still, the county plans to comply with the state’s slightly relaxed standards as it remains in purple tier status.
The county, which is home to more than 10 million of the state’s 40 million residents, has seen more than one million reported cases and over 15,200 deaths according to the Los Angeles Department of Public Health. The county has also faced headwinds in recent weeks, with the revelation that PCR Covid tests used at popular county-sponsored rapid testing sites from drug company Curative could provide false negative test results. The FDA issued an alert warning against using the tests earlier this month, and they were quickly pulled from use.