World Events

California reopening proceeds as COVID-19 cases drop

With coronavirus cases continuing to drop, more parts of California could reopen in the coming days.

Several counties could be eligible to open indoor operations at restaurant dining rooms, gyms, movie theaters, museums, zoos, aquariums and colleges as soon as Wednesday amid a dramatic improvement in the COVID-19 pandemic.

Among the counties that could be eligible to leave the most restrictive purple tier on Wednesday are San Mateo and Marin counties in the Bay Area and Yolo County, west of Sacramento and home to UC Davis.

Only six counties — all sparsely populated areas in Northern California — are not in the state’s most restrictive tier: Alpine, Del Norte, Mariposa, Plumas, Sierra and Trinity.

Counties in the second-most restrictive red tier can reopen indoor restaurant dining rooms and movie theaters with up to 25% capacity or 100 people, whichever is fewer. Gyms and dance and yoga studios can open at 10% capacity. Museums, zoos and aquariums can open indoor activities at 25% capacity. Stores, indoor malls and libraries can open at 50% capacity, an increase from the most-restrictive tier, in which only nonessential stores could open at 25% capacity.

Food courts can also reopen in indoor malls in counties in the red tier but must be at a reduced capacity. In the red tier, higher-education institutions can hold indoor lectures and student gatherings, but are limited to 25% capacity or 100 people, whichever is fewer. In the purple tier, indoor lectures and student gatherings are prohibited.

“All good news, all headed in the right direction,” Mike Callagy, the county manager for San Mateo County, said at a news conference last week.

Southern California was hit much harder by the winter wave than other parts of the state, so reopenings are likely going to be slower there, officials have said.

Still, many pandemic indicators continue to dramatically improve. California is recording about 7,000 new coronavirus cases a day now, down from 45,000 a day from six weeks ago. The number of COVID-19 patients in California’s hospitals on Sunday was 6,569, down from a high of 21,936 recorded on Jan. 6.

The number of people in intensive care units statewide was 1,933 on Sunday, down 60% from its peak of 4,868 on Jan. 10 and at its lowest number since Dec. 1.

California is recording 327 new COVID-19 deaths a day over the past week, down from the peak of 562 deaths a day recorded for the week that ended Jan. 27.

The rate at which coronavirus tests are coming back positive is also consistently declining, data show. The so-called positivity rate over a seven-day period hit a peak of 14.3% on Jan. 7 — the highest number since the first weeks of the pandemic last year — and has fallen to 3.1%, a figure not seen since Nov. 1.

While health officials have cheered the state’s collective progress, they’ve continued to warn that California isn’t out of the woods yet — and that adherence to infection-prevention protocols such as wearing masks in public and avoiding crowded settings, particularly indoors, remains a must.

“These numbers continuing to decrease is not a given,” Los Angeles County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said last week. “This will only continue if we’re all in the game and we’re all using the tools we have at hand.”

Lin wrote from San Francisco and Smith from Los Angeles. Times staff writer Luke Money contributed to this report.

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