Encouraged by dropping COVID-19 cases and decreased hospitalizations in San Mateo County, officials signaled the residents could soon see business expansions as soon as next Wednesday as long as low case rates persist.

“This is so critical for our recovery and for us to open and move to a different tier,” said County Manager Mike Callagy during a press briefing Wednesday. “All good news, all headed in the right direction.”

The change from the most restrictive purple tier to the less restrictive red tier would mean indoor dining, places of worship, movie theaters, museums, zoos and aquariums would be permitted to open at 25% capacity. Gyms would also be allowed to open indoors at 10% capacity, having only been permitted to operate outdoors, and small retailers and shopping centers will have a capacity limit of 50%.

San Mateo County was moved back into the purple most restrictive tier in January after Gov. Gavin Newsom lifted the state’s shelter order. The order forced businesses like hair and nail salons to close for weeks while restaurants were limited to take-out service and retail capacity was greatly reduced.

In the purple tier, restaurants have been allowed to operate outdoors and personal care services have reopened. Church services have also been permitted to reconvene outdoors, however, a recent court ruling has exempted religious institutions from state jurisdiction on closures.

Louise Rogers, San Mateo County’s chief of health, in a statement said the move into the state’s less restrictive red tier could happen in the coming weeks. Heartened by the improvements in COVID figures countywide and in underserved communities, Rogers said the county’s shift hinges on keeping cases low in lowest-resource areas.

The state uses a color-coded tier system to determine to what extent a county can safely open operations. Three metrics ultimately influence the state’s decision, a county’s rolling seven-day average case rate per 100,000 residents, positivity rate per 100,000 residents and Health Equity Metric which monitors case rates in underserved communities.

Despite San Mateo County having an average case rate above seven new cases for every 100,000 residents, the threshold needed to move into the red tier, both its positivity rate and Health Equity Metric now fall within the even less restrictive orange tier. If both figures stay within the orange tier into next week, the county would be eligible for the move into red as soon as Feb. 24, according to officials.

“We are glad to see the continued improvement in our positivity rate in both the lowest-resource communities and the county as a whole,” said Rogers, highlighting the importance of abiding by safety measures, “especially given the transmissibility of the variant strains.”

To date, nearly 38,000 residents have contracted the virus which has claimed 481 lives in San Mateo County, three times the number of fatalities reported before the holidays. But COVID-19 figures are now beginning to drop after a nearly three-month period of spiking cases over the holidays.

Only a month ago, the county was reportedly experiencing an average of nearly 63 new cases for every 100,000 residents but as of Tuesday, Feb. 16, new cases were down to 19 for every 100,000 residents, noted Callagy. Hospitalizations have also decreased from more than 200 patients seeking treatment for COVID-related ailments to now 73.

“We are hopeful our residents will continue to exercise vigilance in keeping themselves and their loved ones safe by following the protective behaviors,” said Rogers. “And we will continue to see the downward trend in the coming weeks.”


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