Sonoma County likely heading to orange tier Wednesday
Sonoma County is likely to advance from the red to the orange tier of California’s coronavirus reopening framework Wednesday, county officials confirmed, a shift that will allow some long-shuttered businesses to reopen while letting many others increase their customer capacity.
The eagerly anticipated news comes even as Sonoma County’s coronavirus case rates plateau after several weeks of steady decline, raising fears of a possible “fourth wave” of viral spread like other parts of the country are already experiencing.
“We’re really on the cusp of reopening and returning to a sense normalcy,” Dr. Sundari Mase, the county health officer, said Monday. “But we’re not there yet. It would be tragic to undo all the progress this close to the finish line.”
Sonoma County will need some help just to get to orange, as it turns out. The county has been well within two of the three metrics the state Department of Public Health uses to assign tiers, having achieved low positivity rates overall and among at-risk “health equity” communities.
The sticking point has been the county’s daily rate of new coronavirus cases. The state’s current threshold is 4 new cases per 100,000 residents. Sonoma County has hovered near that rate for some time, and was hoping to be below it when the state reassigns tiers Tuesday. But Mase reported Monday that the case rate here is now 4.2 per 100,000, which puts the county in the red.
There’s another path into the orange tier, though, related to California’s efforts to vaccinate its most underserved neighborhoods. The state previously announced it will adjust the red-to-orange metrics when it has delivered 4 million doses of vaccine to people in its lowest-income ZIP codes. As of Monday, it had counted 3.96 million of those shots.
Darker color indicates higher vaccination level. Click on each zip code for vaccination rates.
The state Department of Public Health expects to eclipse the 4 million mark Tuesday, Mase said, which would adjust the bar for the orange tier to a daily rate of 6 new cases per 100,000. Since Sonoma County has been below that threshold for several weeks, it would immediately move into orange Wednesday.
That would trigger a loosening of COVID-related safety restrictions in a number of settings. Bars can reopen outdoors with modifications in the orange tier, and many establishments will be able to welcome more people indoors. For example, houses of worship and museums can raise indoor capacity from 25% to 50%, and gyms and yoga studios from 10% to 25%. Restaurants and movie theaters can bump indoor capacity from 25% or 100 people, whichever is fewer, to 50% or 200 people.
More businesses reopening
For some businesses, the move from red to orange will present an even bigger change — from going dark to turning on the lights. That includes bowling alleys and card rooms, which will get the go-ahead to reopen indoors at 25% capacity.
Double Decker Lanes, the Rohnert Park bowling alley, had already found a small workaround to its state-imposed shutdown. The state association of bowling centers successfully lobbied the state Department of Public Health to treat those sites like gyms, said Jim Decker, whose father built Double Decker Lanes in 1974. For the past month, his facility has opened to league bowlers at 10% capacity for “training and conditioning.”
Now, Decker said, he can increase capacity and, just as important, can open his lounge and snack bar for food and drinks. Before the state granted alleys their training exemption, Double Decker had been closed for all but three weeks over the previous year.
Fortunately, Decker said, he owns the property under the building. Still, he has had to maintain equipment leases, and pay insurance premiums, permit fees and property taxes throughout. He counts his financial losses “in the millions.” Decker plans a soft opening for Double Decker Lanes next Monday, and to open the snack bar the following week.
“I’m just hoping once we get open and everybody comes back, I won’t be so bitter about this whole thing,” he said. “It’s so frustrating, since I’m president of the Bowling Proprietors’ Association of America and I’m seeing every other state open months now for bowling. My colleagues across the nation, first they felt sorry for us. Then they were almost like laughing at us. Now they’re just praying for us, that we make it through it.”
‘COVID is not going away’
Meanwhile, county officials were adamant that the anticipated move toward reopening in no way represents victory in the battle against the virus. Sonoma County has seen an 8% rise in diagnosed coronavirus cases over the previous week, Mase said.