California is relaxing its criteria for counties that want to reopen their economies faster than the state during the coronavirus pandemic, after local leaders complained that the original requirements were too difficult to meet.
Newsom said his administration estimated that all but five of California’s 58 counties would qualify for a variance from the statewide stay-at-home order through the new rules, though not all may choose to seek one. Newsom did not specify which five counties fell short, but he mentioned outbreaks at Tulare County nursing homes and a meatpacking plant in Kings County, as well as the overall increase in cases in Los Angeles County, as points of concern.
“The bottom line is people can go at their own pace, and we are empowering our local health directors and county officials who understand their local communities and conditions better than anyone,” Newsom said during a news conference at Mustards Grill in Napa.
The number of ineligible counties is likely significantly higher, however. A San Francisco Chronicle analysis found at least six counties in the Bay Area alone that still do not meet thresholds previously set by the state for minimum daily testing and hiring employees to trace the spread of infections.
Under the new framework, counties must demonstrate that their hospitalization rates remain stable. Counties will have to show either that their number of coronavirus patients has not increased by more than 5% in the past week, or that they have not had more than 20 patients on a given day for at least two weeks.
Counties must also meet one of two other conditions: fewer than 25 cases per 100,000 residents for at least 14 days, or a rate of positive coronavirus tests that has dropped below 8%.
Qualifying counties could move ahead of the state by resuming dining-in restaurants, permitting shopping in retail stores and reopening schools, provided they implement safety protocols. Two dozen counties were already given permission last week, mainly in the sparsely populated far north or in the Sierra.
A bloc of six Bay Area counties has been moving slower than most parts of the state to ease its own restrictions, agreeing just this week to allow curbside pickup for retail stores, more than a week after Newsom made a similar adjustment to the state order.
All six counties fall short on at least two state targets to move to the next reopening phase. But along with announcing they would be resuming some curbside retail sales, the counties said Monday that they did not plan to further ease restrictions for at least two weeks.
Three North Bay counties that are not part of the group are seeking permission to go faster, despite not meeting the original state benchmarks for a variance. Napa and Solano counties filed requests with the state last week, while Sonoma County supervisors voted Monday to seek one. All three of the counties appear to meet the new criteria laid out by Newsom, or are very close.