San Diego County moves into less-restrictive red tier

On Friday, Jan. 8, 2021 in downtown Carlsbad, customers enjoy outside dining at OAK + Elixir.
On Friday, Jan. 8, 2021 in downtown Carlsbad, customers enjoy outside dining at OAK + Elixir.
(Nelvin C. Cepeda/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Restaurants and gyms can move inside with limited occupancy


One year from the day she ordered local restaurants to close and prohibited public and private gatherings, Dr. Wilma Wooten announced Tuesday, March 16, that San Diego County has attained a case rate low enough to rejoin the red tier of the state’s reopening blueprint Wednesday, March 17.

In a biweekly COVID-19 update to the county Board of Supervisors, Wooten foreshadowed the contents of the state’s weekly tier report, correctly listing San Diego’s score at 6.8 cases per 100,000 residents. Taken together with last week’s score of 8.8, and because the state retroactively increased the red tier threshold from 7 to 10, San Diego will move from purple to red.

“Tomorrow, Wednesday, the county can officially move to the red tier,” Wooten said.

San Diego was joined by nine other counties that moved from purple to red Tuesday: Lake, Monterey, Riverside, Sacramento, Santa Barbara, Sutter, Tehema, Tulare and Ventura. That leaves just 11 of California’s 58 counties in purple.

The move creates a kind of COVID-19 symmetry in San Diego with local restaurants able to reopen with 25 percent indoor dining on St. Patrick’s Day, the very same day they were ordered to close in 2020.

So much has transpired in-between those bookends. Records indicate that the county had announced just 59 positive cases, 11 hospitalizations and zero deaths by the nation’s greenest holiday last year. As of yesterday’s daily report, those totals had grown to 265,649 cases, 13,343 hospitalizations and 3,452 deaths.

As March Madness fizzled in 2020, the debate was around the effectiveness of mask wearing and transmission of the virus among those without symptoms. Today, the questions surround variants, mutated versions of the novel coronavirus that are outcompeting the types that have circulated most widely in the community.

The state’s blueprint for reopening the economy is younger than the pandemic itself, having arrived on Aug. 31 after a significant summer surge in cases. San Diego fell to the purple tier on Nov. 10, bringing a fresh round of pain to local businesses who were forced to start operating outdoors only just as winter weather started to arrive.

Board Chairman Nathan Fletcher called climbing out of the purple tier a “strong step forward” in a statement sent midday, March 16.

The red tier allows restaurants to begin using 25 percent of their indoor seating capacity while maintaining significant separation between tables and still requiring patrons to wear masks. Gyms are allowed to operate at 10 percent total indoor capacity. Outdoor live entertainment venues, including Petco Park, and amusement parks such as LegoLand and Disneyland, may open at 20 percent and 15 percent occupancy starting April 1.

— Paul Sisson is a reporter for The San Diego Union-Tribune