Yolo County moves to red tier in California reopening, loosening COVID restrictions

California health officials promoted Yolo County to the red tier of coronavirus restrictions on Tuesday due to improving COVID-19 numbers, allowing numerous types of businesses and activities to reopen.

Yolo is the first county in the Sacramento area to move toward reopening since a wave of infections forced the state into tighter restrictions in November.

The upgrade will permit Yolo to amend its local health order to allow restaurants to reopen for indoor dining, and several other types of businesses including fitness centers, movie theaters and museums to reopen indoors with capacity limits and mandatory masks.

The changes officially take effect beginning Wednesday, according to the California Department of Public Health.

County spokeswoman Jenny Tan called the move to the red tier “exciting news for our residents and businesses.”

“To prevent a surge in cases and possibly moving backwards to the purple tier again, we all need to stay vigilant and continue to wear face coverings and physical distance,” she said.

The promotion makes Yolo the first in the six-county Sacramento region — rounded out by El Dorado, Placer, Sacramento, Sutter and Yuba counties — to depart from the purple tier in more than three months.

California placed the vast majority of counties in purple status in mid-November in response to the developing statewide surge in COVID-19 infections, which intensified through December and into early January, keeping restrictions tight.

“Moving into the red tier is an indication that COVID-19 cases are declining, but it does not mean that coronavirus has gone away,” county Health Officer Dr. Aimee Sisson said. “We cannot let down our guard. Reopening must be done cautiously to avoid a surge in cases.

“I urge residents to continue taking precautions to keep themselves, their loved ones, and the rest of the Yolo County community safe. Wearing masks, distancing, not gathering indoors, and getting vaccinated when it is your turn remain as important as ever.”

CDPH improved Yolo to the red level after it met all three tier list criteria for back-to-back weeks.

Those three requirements are: a daily average below seven new cases per 100,000 residents (6.6 in last week’s update and 5.6 this week for Yolo); an overall test positivity rate below 8% (1.8% last week and 1.6% this week); and a “health equity” metric, which is a test positivity rate below 8% in the quartile of census tracts the state considers to be the county’s most socioeconomically disadvantaged (5.7% last week and 5.2% this week).

Meeting all three of the COVID-19 infection metrics is the usual avenue for promotion through the tier system, but CDPH, in an exception created last year, also allows counties with case rates above seven per 100,000 to promote from the purple tier to the red tier. To do so, a county’s overall test positivity and health equity positivity rates must each come in below 5% for two consecutive weeks. The health equity metric is only considered for counties with more than 106,000 residents.

Using this health equity exception, Marin, San Mateo and Shasta counties also advanced from purple to red this week. Those three plus Yolo and Humboldt were the five counties promoted this week.

Yolo’s case rates the past two weeks clear the way for K-12 districts to reopen on-campus learning. CDPH guidelines require a county must have a case rate below 25 per 100,000 for pre-kindergarten through sixth grade schools to go back to campus and must be in the red tier for grades seven through 12 to return.

The Yolo County Office of Education on its website says schools “will soon be open for modified in-class instruction,” though plans are still developing and may vary from district to district or even, to some extent, campus by campus.

Davis Joint Unified School District in an update sent to parents last Friday said officials are “actively planning for a return to campus.”

Yolo County’s metrics also allow numerous outdoor youth sports to resume once new state guidance takes effect this coming Friday.

According to its local health office, Yolo County has reported more than 12,500 confirmed cases and 181 resident deaths from COVID-19 over the course of the pandemic, which began to afflict California about a year ago. More than one-third of those deaths have been linked to long-term care facilities, despite those accounting for less than 6% of the county’s total cases.

How close are neighboring counties to the red tier?

Sacramento County reported a test positivity of 5.4%, but 15.3 new cases per 100,000 and 8.2% positivity in disadvantaged neighborhoods for the week. That means departing the purple tier will take a minimum of two more weeks.

El Dorado County had 10.3 new cases per 100,000, but its overall test positivity of 4.6% and health equity positivity of 4.3% give the county one week of credit toward promotion to the red tier. If both positivity metrics remain beneath 5% in next week’s update, El Dorado will move up.

Placer County also had 10.3 new cases per 100,000, with overall test positivity of 4.1% and health equity positivity of 5.9%. Like Sacramento, Placer will have to wait at least two more weeks for the red tier.

The Yuba-Sutter bicounty area is further from promotion. CDPH reported Yuba with 7.2% positivity and 15.1 new cases per 100,000, and Sutter at 6% positivity and a case rate of 14.7. Neither meet the population threshold for the health equity metric, meaning they’ll need to cut their case rates below seven per 100,000 to notch credit toward the red tier.