A breakdown of the tiered system, how it affects reopenings

Twenty-year veteran stylist, Terri Benedict washes a costumer's hair after choosing from a vbariety of shampoos at N' Style Salon in Santa Clarita on Friday, June 26, 20. Dan Watson/The Signal

California endured an eventful month in August in its fight against the pandemic: A glitch caused a backlog of nearly 300,000 COVID-19 records and its deadliest month since the onset of the pandemic, with 13,000 by the end. 

The state also saw a decline in daily new virus cases and hospitalizations, from more than 8,000 and 6,600, respectively, in July, to 4,100 and 3,800 in August, according to the Public Health Department’s data. 

With numbers constantly changing, California unveiled on Aug. 28 a blueprint that “recognizes that COVID-19 will be with us for a long time,” which is tasked with determining its 58 counties’ position on a four-tiered, color-coded framework. 

“This blueprint is statewide, stringent and slow,” said Gov. Gavin Newsom when announced. “We have made notable progress over recent weeks, but the disease is still too widespread across the state. COVID-19 will be with us for a long time and we all need to adapt. We need to live differently. And we need to minimize exposure for our health, for our families and for our communities.”

How is a county placed on a tier? 

Counties were either on or off the state’s former “watch list” based on multiple metrics, including new cases, hospitalizations and positivity rates. 

Under the new blueprint, counties will be categorized under one of four levels but only two metrics will determine when they move up or down those tiers: case rate, or the seven-day average of new cases per 100,000 individuals; and positivity rate, or the percentage of positive tests. 

Each county must meet the metrics for two consecutive weeks before switching to another tier and they must wait 21 days between each move — a method aimed at avoiding the back-and-forth for businesses to reopen as seen under the former watch list framework. Counties can also return to a previous tier if their metrics worsen for two straight weeks. 

Each of the four colored tiers (purple, red, orange and yellow) specifies what can and can’t open per county, keeping in mind that municipalities can issue stricter laws but not less stringent than the state’s restrictions. 

The purple tier 

Counties in the purple tier, where Los Angeles County currently stands, have “widespread” cases and have the most restrictions. Those in this category have more than seven daily new COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people and have more than 8% of tests returning positive. 

Under this tier, many sectors can reopen but with modifications for either indoor or outdoor services. 

Open indoors with a 25% capacity: hair salons and barbershops, all retail and shopping centers such as malls. In L.A. County, hair salons and barbershops can resume indoor operations but shopping malls cannot. 

Open outdoors only: places of worship; restaurants; movies, personal care services, such as nail salons, museums and zoos; gyms; wineries; family entertainment centers like mini-golf and batting cages; and card rooms. 

The red tier

Counties labeled “red” indicate a “substantial” spread of the virus, having anywhere between four to seven new diagnoses per 100,000 residents per day and a positivity rate of 5%-8%. 

Capacity increases under this tier for those that were allowed to resume indoor services under “purple,” such as from 25% to 50% for hair salons and malls. Restaurants and other businesses that could only operate outdoors can move indoors with a 25% capacity. 

Schools can open for on-campus instruction if a county is able to remain in red for 14 days. L.A. County announced it could resume in-person instruction for small cohorts starting Sept. 14. 

The orange tier

In this tier, counties have “moderate” cases, meaning they’re reporting 1-3.9 daily new cases per 100,000 individuals, with testing positivity rates between 2%-4.9%. 

Bars, breweries and distilleries that do not offer food can open in this stage but only outdoors with modifications. 

Many sectors that could only operate outdoors, such as family entertainment centers and card rooms, can return inside with a 25% capacity. 

The yellow tier

This tier includes counties with a “minimal” spread of COVID-19. They have less than one daily new case per 100,000 and a positivity rate of less than 2%. 

At this stage, most businesses are indoors with a 50% capacity but concert venues and festivals, as well as live audiences for professional sports, will not yet be allowed. 

Even under these four tiers, practices such as wearing face masks and practicing physical distance will continue to play a vital role in helping prevent the spread of the virus, according to health officials. 

“(U)ntil an effective vaccine is distributed, Californians must wear a mask every time they’re with people outside their household,” Public Health officials said in a statement. “Residents must take activities outside and maintain distance even with loved ones who do not live with them.”

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