The California Department of Public Health ended regional stay-at-home orders on Monday morning, effective immediately for all regions statewide, including the Bay Area, San Joaquin Valley and Southern California, health officials announced on Jan. 25.
The end of the state's regional orders will return the state to the previous county-by-county colored tiered system under its Blueprint for a Safer Economy. The color-coded tiers indicate which activities and businesses can open based on local case rates and test positivity, with yellow being the most lax tier and purple the most restrictive.
"We may be past the winter surge, but COVID-19 is still with us," said Dr. Nicholas Moss, Alameda County's health officer. "We are only in the early stages of our vaccination campaign, and the virus has shown us it is capable of returning again and again. That means that, even as we cautiously reopen, we must continue to do the things we know work to keep each other safe."
In communities placed in the purple tier, including Alameda County, business activities such as outdoor dining and indoor personal services could resume immediately with required modifications on Monday, but they remain subject to any additional restrictions required by local jurisdictions.
"I feel like once the announcement was made I started to have a lot of clients reaching out," said Christine Butler, owner of Salon 645 on Main Street in Pleasanton.
"I am 100% confident in our safety precautions; I really don't think there is anything we can do to be safer," Butler told the Weekly on Tuesday. "We're limiting the number of people allowed in the salon. We're of course making sure that everybody is wearing masks and staying six feet apart. We have partitions (between stations), air purifiers, we sanitize everything that anyone can touch."
The regional stay-at-home orders were based on the intensive-care unit capacity within five sections across California made up of multiple counties. A drop to below 15% of the available ICU beds in a region triggered the stay-at-home order. Each regional order urged Californians to stay home except for essential activities, which helped lower disease transmission levels and reduced the burden on the hospital system.
ICU capacity projections for all regions over the next four weeks are above 15%, the threshold that allows regions to exit the order. The Sacramento region exited the order on Jan. 12 and the Northern California region, such as Del Norte, Humboldt, Lake and Lassen counties, never entered the order.
The majority of state counties are still in the strictest tier, also known as the purple tier, including all Bay Area counties. Individual counties could choose to impose stricter rules, state officials noted.
"Under no circumstances should anyone view the state action today as a reason to let down their guard. We have made progress, but we need to continue what we are doing to keep our families and communities safe," said Dr. Chris Farnitano, Contra Costa County health officer. "It is just common sense."
Across the state, the number of available ICU beds is increasing into the double digits despite fears by health officials of a precipitous spike in COVID-19 cases after the winter holidays. Officials imposed the regional order to prevent the spike in cases from overwhelming the health care system. The disastrous increase did not appear to take shape as they had feared.
"Californians heard the urgent message to stay home as much as possible and accepted that challenge to slow the surge and save lives. Together, we changed our activities knowing our short-term sacrifices would lead to longer-term gains. COVID-19 is still here and still deadly, so our work is not over, but it's important to recognize our collective actions saved lives and we are turning a critical corner," Dr. Tomás Aragón, director of the California Department of Public Health and state public health officer, said in a statement.
All counties in the state, including in the Bay Area, are in the purple tier except for Mariposa, Alpine, Sierra and Trinity counties, according to a state tier map.
For Alameda County, its adjusted daily new COVID-19 case rate per 100,000 was 28.9 and its testing positive rate was 7.7% as of Tuesday, according to the Alameda County Public Health Department.
Countywide, there were 906 deaths attributed to COVID-19 and 71,298 confirmed cases on record as of Tuesday. The case count included 3,656 in Livermore (fifth-most for a city in Alameda County), 1,868 in Pleasanton and 1,341 in Dublin, according to ACPHD.
With the switch back to the tier system, business activities allowed to reopen with modifications in Alameda County in the purple tier include hair salons and barbershops, hotels and lodging for recreational travel and personal care services such as massage and nail salons. Also, grocery stores can increase capacity to 50% and other retail can increase capacity to 25%.
Now allowed to operate outdoors with modifications include restaurants, wineries, tasting rooms, gyms, museums, places of worship and cultural ceremonies, campgrounds, family entertainment centers, movie theaters, cardrooms, race tracks, zoos and aquariums.
A few residents took part in reauthorized outdoor dining in downtown Pleasanton on Tuesday morning and afternoon ahead of the rainstorm, while indoor personal services saw more patron action this week.
"The clients are relieved I think and very excited. It's great," Butler said.
"As a salon, we do hair, but it's more about relationships with people as well. Especially during the pandemic there has been such a lack of people being able to be social and be with one another. I think that's what our clients have been missing the most, just that therapy time with their stylist," she said with a laugh. "And we enjoy it just as much as they do."
"We're feeling very happy," Salon 645 stylist Makayla Reisma said of the reopening of indoor salons.
"It's been really hard (not being able to work full time)," Reisma said. "I was really grateful that we were able to get unemployment and be able to use that because otherwise I think a lot of us would have been in trouble."
Added Butler, "Sometimes you don't really know what you have until it's gone. I'm looking forward to a better 2021. I feel like we're on the other side of the hill and things are only going to get better."
With Monday's shift to the tier system, school reopenings still fall under the state's separate framework and guidance.
Small private gatherings of no more than three households, for a limited time, are permitted outdoors under state guidance with physical distancing and mask requirements. County officials urged residents to engage in such gatherings with caution, and they discouraged Super Bowl parties for the big game on Feb. 7.
"California is slowly starting to emerge from the most dangerous surge of this pandemic yet, which is the light at the end of the tunnel we've been hoping for. Seven weeks ago, our hospitals and front-line medical workers were stretched to their limits, but Californians heard the urgent message to stay home when possible and our surge after the December holidays did not overwhelm the health care system to the degree we had feared," Dr. Mark Ghaly, the state's Health and Human Services secretary, said in the statement.
Because case rates remain high across most of California, the state's "Hospital Surge Order" remains in place to prevent hospitals from becoming overwhelmed. The partial lockdown or "Limited Stay at Home Order," which limited nonessential activities between the hours of 10 p.m. and 5 a.m., also expired Monday.
While there are positive signs that the virus is spreading at a slower rate across the state, it is still spreading, state officials said.
"It is still critical that Californians continue to wear masks when they leave their homes, maintain physical distance of at least six feet, wash their hands frequently, avoid gatherings and mixing with other households, follow all state and local health department guidance and get the vaccine when it's their turn," they said in a press release.
Gov. Gavin Newsom said on Monday that the state would move to an age-based prioritization after health workers, first responders, essential workers and people ages 65 and older have been vaccinated. Newsom noted that people ages 65 and older make up 75% of the deaths from COVID-19.
California, in collaboration with local health departments and health care facilities statewide, took multiple actions to support hospitals and slow the surge in cases and hospitalizations in addition to implementing regional stay-at-home orders, according to the release.
Here is a list of those actions:
* Added more than 4,100 medical professionals, many from out of state, to facilities across California to ease the burden on front-line health care workers.
* Provided personal protective equipment and ventilators and help with oxygen supply.
* Helped hospitals expand their capacity by opening 16 alternate-care sites for recovering COVID-19 patients.
* Implemented a statewide order to make it easier to transfer patients from overcrowded hospitals to those with more space and staff.
* Prioritized vaccines to health care workers so that fewer workers fall ill to the virus to keep staffing levels more stable.