After three weeks of being in one of the state’s least restrictive tiers for reopening, a spike in COVID-19 cases has caused San Mateo County to be moved back into the red “substantial” risk tier on Tuesday, requiring many businesses to roll back operations or close completely. 

As part of Gov. Gavin Newsom’s “emergency brake,” beginning Monday, indoor dining, places of worship, movie theaters, museums, zoos and aquariums will have to reduce capacity to 25% in the county, after expanding to 50% under the orange tier. Gym capacity will also be reduced to 10% from the 25% and small retailers and shopping centers will have to follow capacity limits of 50% after having capacity requirements lifted.  

Businesses now only permitted to operate outdoors include card rooms and wineries while bars, breweries and distilleries that do not sell food will be forced to close. Schools that have begun to reopen will not be required to close now that the county is back in the red tier. 

“By following the guidance provided in the Pandemic Recovery Framework, schools are showing they can do this even if conditions in the county change. Nonetheless, we remain alert to state and county guidance, and the County Office of Education continues to build the capacity of schools to pivot to distance learning if public health officials advise,” said county Superintendent Nancy Magee in a press release. 

COVID-19 cases have surged across the nation, including California, leading state officials to halt reopenings. In San Mateo County, new daily cases have risen to 10.4 new cases per 100,000 residents. Accounting for a state credit granted to counties that administer tests above the state’s average, San Mateo County has an adjusted new case rate of 5.7 cases for every 100,000 residents after falling below an adjusted 3 cases per 100,000 residents in past weeks. Counties must have a case rate below 4 to enter into the orange tier. 

Two additional metrics used to determine tier placement remain in good standing for the county to be in the orange tier, including a positive test rate of 2.1% for every 100,000 residents and a healthy equity metric of 2.5%, both monitored on a rolling seven-day average. But having one of three metrics fall into a more restrictive tier for two consecutive weeks results in a county being moved into the stricter tier.

"The economy will never recover unless we take personal responsibility and double down on the core behaviors of social distancing, hand washing, avoiding crowds and of course wearing masks. If we don’t do this then people will die and the economy will fall into calamity,” said Supervisor David Canepa in a press release.

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