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Seven California counties, including Mendocino and Marin, promoted in reopening tiers

California health officials updated the state's color-coded COVID-19 risk assessments Tuesday, promoting seven counties to less restrictive tiers.

Glenn and Mendocino counties improved from the most-restrictive purple tier to the red tier. Santa Cruz plus three Bay Area counties — Contra Costa, Marin and San Mateo — went from red to orange. Calaveras County was promoted from orange to the least-restrictive yellow tier.

The move from purple to red allows counties to reopen a variety of types of businesses and activities, including restaurants, gyms, places of worship and more, for indoor operations, most of them with a hard capacity limit of 25%. The orange and yellow tiers expand that capacity limit while allowing a few more non-essential types of businesses to reopen.

No counties were demoted, but eight were notified by CDPH that they failed to meet the requirements for their currently assigned tiers for the data survey week. Those eight were Solano and Shasta, currently in the red tier; Inyo, Napa and Placer, currently in orange; and Humboldt, Plumas and Trinity, all in yellow.

The state says it has put Shasta County in an "observation period" after the county's elevated case have failed to meet red-tier requirements for three consecutive weeks. Shasta has faced a large outbreak of cases linked to the Bethel School of Supernatural Ministry, which faced stern admonition last week from county leaders following reports of a large in-person conference and otherwise dismissive positions on COVID-19.

Tier assessments are based on California Department of Public Health data, with counties classified by comparing new daily cases per 100,000 residents and test positivity percentages to state-set thresholds.

The list is updated weekly on Tuesdays, and the data incorporates a lag time to account for potential data reporting issues. This week's list used coronavirus numbers from Oct. 11 through Oct. 17.

CDPH on Tuesday made a change to demotion procedures that will give counties a bit more leeway to remain open.

Now, each week, "If a county's adjusted case rate and/or test positivity has fallen within a more restrictive tier for two consecutive weekly periods, the state will review the most recent 10 days of data, and if CDPH determines there are objective signs of improvement the county may remain in the tier," the updated rules for tier assignments read.

That appears to be what's happening in Shasta County, which last week ranked worst among all 58 counties with 15.5 new daily cases per 100,000 residents. In this week's assessment, Shasta's new case rate was 7.5, still slightly above the red-tier requirement but marking a substantial increase from last week.

In the Sacramento region, Placer was the only county to fail to meet the criteria for its current tier this week, but state data showed Sacramento County's new case rate increase from 4.4 to 5.7 daily new cases per 100,000 residents.

A Sacramento Bee analysis of COVID-19 data in the region determined new infections in Sacramento, Placer and Yolo counties have been in a short-term spike since mid-October, which suggests the numbers in the state's weekly tier tables could also worsen more, as early as next week.

The tiered reopening framework took effect Sept. 1 and started with 38 counties accounting for about 87% of the state's 40 million residents in the purple tier. Eight weeks later in this Tuesday's update, nine are still purple, 22 are red, 17 are orange and 10 are yellow.

California recently surpassed 900,000 total cases, with an official total of 904,198 lab-confirmed infections reported as of Tuesday's update to state data. The state reported 43 deaths for an all-time total of 17,400.

Over the past two weeks, the state has averaged about 3,700 new cases and 59 fatalities per day. Both are the lowest rates since early summer, though cases have started to tick up after reaching a two-week rolling average of about 3,125 a day in early October.

Test rate positivity has been on a plateau, at 3% or lower since the end of September. It's at 2.9% over the past two weeks. It had been at 2.5%, California's lowest positivity, as of Oct. 18.

CDPH data show hospital numbers on a continued plateau as they have been for weeks. The concurrent total of patients with COVID-19 in California hospital beds has staying between 2,200 and 2,400 since Sept. 25. Intensive care unit patients have ranged from 600 to 660 since Oct. 7, state data show.

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