The ongoing nationwide decline in new coronavirus cases will allow five more California counties to accelerate the reopening of their economies and bring them one step closer to possible school classroom learning, led by Governor Gavin Newsom to lift restrictions on communities to loosen.
The Newsom administration announced Tuesday that COVID-19 conditions in Orange, Santa Clara, Santa Cruz, Placer, and Amador counties have improved enough to postpone stage two of California's four-stage reopening plan.
The change would allow many businesses and services to partially re-open, including restaurants to serve customers indoors, places of worship that offer personal services, and cinemas that are in operation – but only with a capacity of 25% .
COVID-19-related hospital stays across the state have decreased by nearly 24% in the past two weeks, according to Newsom. Of the Californians who were tested over the same period, 4.3% were positive. This is a decrease of 5.3% on September 1st and 6.3% in mid-August. The number of confirmed new cases every day is also falling.
"If these numbers seem more promising, it's because they are," Newsom said during his briefing on Tuesday.
Even so, he cautioned Californians not to be complacent, especially after a three-day Labor Day weekend and a heatwave hit parts of the state. California saw the virus transmission spike after Memorial Day and July 4th weekends, with more people flocking to beaches and gatherings with friends and family.
"Three-day holiday weekends were not beneficial in containing the spread of this virus," Newsom said. "As a result, we are very cautious about our approach as we move forward. We will hold the line with the approach we have developed in partnership with counties across the state."
On Aug. 28, Newsom announced a new four-step reopening plan that would require counties to have a consistent track record of containing coronavirus transmission before companies have more flexibility to reopen and resume group activities.
Newsom promised to be more cautious and strict than it did when it first reopened in the spring, when its decision to quickly relax restrictions resulted in such a sharp spike in cases where it ordered another nationwide shutdown.
Despite the changes announced on Tuesday, 33 of California's 58 counties remain at the state's most restrictive levels, indicating "widespread" virus transmission. Restaurants, church services, fitness studios and fitness centers, cinemas and museums may only be operated outdoors in these areas.
San Diego is the only county in Southern California that has been raised to the second tier and has been classified as "substantial". Newsom said seven additional counties in the state could move to stage two next week, though administrative officials failed to name them.
There are currently 14 districts in the “substantial” second stage. A total of 11 districts are in the least restrictive levels that are classified as moderately or minimally transferable.
The new rules also provide a new way to partially reopen schools in some communities.
School officials in the 25 districts classified as "substantial," "moderate," or "minimal" in the new structure of the state will only be able to offer limited in-person tuition on school premises once those districts maintain that status for at least 14 days. Districts with even fewer confirmed coronavirus cases and lower test positivity rates could allow students to return to campus part-time even earlier.