Sonoma County sits on verge of least restrictive reopening stage
Sonoma County sits on the verge of advancing to the least restrictive stage of the state’s four-part pandemic reopening plan, a move that could occur as soon as May 12 if the community keeps the coronavirus in check another week.
State public health officials Tuesday released their latest weekly assessment of California’s 58 counties’ progress battling virus transmission. Sonoma County’s key public health metrics dipped low enough to make the area eligible to jump from the orange to the yellow tier of the state’s reopening road map.
Meanwhile, the city and county of San Francisco will enter the yellow tier Wednesday, making it the only Bay Area county in the most lenient reopening stage. Mendocino County to the north advanced to the yellow tier last week.
Sonoma County’s odyssey from the most to least restrictive reopening stage has been long and tedious for residents and businesses. For nearly seven months starting in late August, Sonoma was mired in the purple tier that carries the tightest pandemic restrictions on public life and commerce.
Then on March 14, after the state adjusted its benchmarks to reflect statewide vaccination progress, the county finally able to exit purple and enter the red tier. The county advanced to the orange tier on April 7.
County Health Officer Dr. Sundari Mase has largely attributed the area’s ability this spring to curtail spread of COVID-19 to the ongoing vaccination push that began in December.
Slightly fewer than half of local residents age 16 and older — 201,159 people — have been fully vaccinated, while another 18%, or 73,144 individuals, have received one of two required shots of the two mostly widely administered vaccines, according to the latest county public health data. That leaves about a third of residents eligible for inoculations that have yet to get any.
To qualify for the yellow stage, counties must have an infection rate of fewer than 2 new daily cases per 100,000 residents, overall test positivity of less than 2% and test positivity in poor communities of less than 2.2%.
The county barely qualified Tuesday with an adjusted COVID-19 transmission rate of 1.9 new daily cases per 100,000 people, an overall virus test positivity level — the share of tests that result positive — of 0.9% and test positivity in disadvantaged communities of 1.2%, according to state public health data.
Now the county stands on the brink of another big step toward post-pandemic life.
“I’m waiting with bated breath,” Mase said. “... We’re right on the cusp.”
Clearing the threshold for the yellow tier next week could prove more difficult, she said.
The state’s assessment next week will be based on COVID-19 data between April 25 and May 1. On April 30 and May 1, the county reported 24 and 20 new daily cases, respectively. In the three days before that, the county reported 14, 11, and 13 new daily infections.
That narrow uptick in daily cases, Mase said, could prevent the county from achieving another week of metrics required to actually move into the yellow tier. She said it remains to be seen whether the county’s COVID-19 testing volume was greater than the state average for that week. If that occurred, the county would get a favorable adjustment that will reduce its new daily virus case rate.
Achieving the yellow reopening stage would allow Sonoma County to reopen more broadly and expand business operations and public activities with fewer limits.
For example, bars not serving food could reopen indoors at 25% capacity or 100 people, whichever is fewer. Wineries, breweries and distilleries where no meals are served could jump to 50% capacity or 200 people, whichever is fewer. Restaurants would remain at 50% indoor capacity.
Gyms, fitness centers and dance studios can move to 50% capacity inside, and they’d be allowed to reopen hot tubs, indoor pools, steam rooms and saunas.
Counties must maintain key virus metrics required for a less restrictive stage for two weeks before they can advance and reopen business and activities under that tier. If the county maintains yellow tier benchmarks in the state’s May 11 assessment, it will officially advance to the yellow stage the following day.
With San Francisco advancing, all other Bay Area counties are in the orange stage, with the exception of Solano County, which is still in the red zone.
Under the state’s least restrictive reopening stage, Double Decker Lanes, the bowling alley in Rohnert Park, would be able to open at 50% capacity instead of the 25% limit now in place. But owner Jim Decker said Tuesday that would not help him much, because with 6 feet of social distancing still required between individuals he can’t get accommodate many more than 200 customers.
“So, we’ll still have to use every other lane,” Decker said. “Even if we do get to go to 50%, 400 people in here probably wouldn’t work for us.”
Decker hopes Gov. Newsom’s intention to fully reopen the state by June 15 will include easing of social distancing guidelines. That would allow the bowling alley to reopen the bar lounge and resume karaoke.
You can reach Staff Writer Martin Espinoza at 707-521-5213 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @pressreno.