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San Diego County Re-Enters Purple Tier, Outdoor Dining Returns

A sign in front of the Trattoria I Trulli Italian restaurant in Encinitas on ...

Photo by Alexander Nguyen

Above: A sign in front of the Trattoria I Trulli Italian restaurant in Encinitas on Jan. 3. 2021, reads "Take-Out Only."

Citing improving conditions in hospitals, state health officials Monday lifted all regional stay-at-home orders, including in the 11-county Southern California region, but counties will still be subject to the tight regulations of the restrictive "purple" tier of economic reopening guidelines.

San Diego County officials moved the county back into the purple tier Monday, reopening the following in an outdoor capacity: restaurant dining, gyms, places of worship, museums, zoos and aquariums, camping and outdoor recreation, bars, breweries and distilleries if they serve food, low contact youth sports such as cross country, swimming and diving, golf and track and field, family entertainment centers and movie theaters. Personal care services such as barbershops, hair and nail salons and tattoo shops can operate indoors.

Grocery stores can operate at 50% capacity, retail at 25%, and live sports can continue as long as fans aren't in attendance. Amusement parks will remain closed.

"I think it is time for businesses to be able to have some hope," said Dr. Wilma Wooten, the county's public health officer.

Curious how the vaccine rollout is going in San Diego County? KPBS is tracking the progress.

County Supervisor Nathan Fletcher said the region had a long way to go before arriving in the red tier of the state's four-tiered reopening plan. The county's adjusted case rate was 49.6 new cases per 100,000 people. To be dropped into the more permissive red tier, cases have to be fewer than seven per 100,000.

The regional stay-at-home order was imposed in Southern California late last year when intensive-care unit capacity dropped below 15%. The regional capacity subsequently dropped to an adjusted 0%.

But state officials said Monday that with hospitalization numbers trending downward, four-week projections now indicate ICU capacity will rise above the 15% threshold.

Although the state order has been lifted, individual counties are still able to impose stricter restrictions than the state.

Fletcher said the announcement represented a positive step forward.

"Obviously we need to see continued progress, we want to see our case numbers continue to decline," he said. "And again, our focus has to remain on administering vaccines and continuing the efforts to slow the spread to try to guide our way out of this."

San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria released a statement on the state's announcement Monday morning.

"This is how our economy will fully reopen for good. I want to thank every San Diegan — residents and small business owners alike — who made this possible by avoiding gatherings, wearing masks and staying home when possible," Gloria said. "With vaccination efforts expanding, we're making real progress, but it's not time to let our guard down. San Diego will continue to enforce state and county public-health guidelines. Let's continue to keep ourselves and each other safe."

Former Mayor Kevin Faulconer, who has formed an exploratory committee to run for governor and has attacked Newsom in recent weeks, described the move as "absurd."

"A new day, a new erratic COVID rule," Faulconer said. "Californians want to follow the science. Instead we are forced to follow a governor who decides on a whim the fate of millions of Californians while refusing to release the data behind his contradictory and arbitrary decisions."

The news came as San Diego County public health officials reported 1,637 new COVID-19 cases and 31 additional deaths Sunday — the 55th consecutive day with more than 1,000 new cases.

The county's cumulative case total increased to 227,195 and the death toll is now at 2,375.

There were 57 more COVID-19 patients reported hospitalized in the county Sunday, with four more San Diegans moved into intensive care.

Over the past 30 days, a 10% increase in the number of hospitalizations has been recorded, with a 21% increase in patients in ICUs, according to the county's Health and Human Services Agency. Experts said the data showing a decline in cases and overall hospitalizations, but an increase in ICU patients and deaths, might indicate a tapering down of a major wave of the pandemic.

A median two-week period between infection and first symptoms along with additional time between symptoms and hospitalization, serious symptoms and death could mean these record numbers are from people who were initially infected around the Christmas and New Year's holidays, they said.

San Diego County Supervisor Nathan Fletcher said last week that he was "cautiously optimistic" about the numbers, but wanted to see a longer downward trend and warned the public not to become complacent.

"Numbers can rapidly turn around and go the other direction," he said.

Eleven new community outbreaks were reported as of Saturday, while 45 have been recorded in the past week, tied to 192 cases.

With 196,152 total vaccinations administered, and 31,189 people having received both doses as of Thursday, at least 1% of the county's population over the age of 16 has been inoculated. Fletcher said the number of vaccines administered is likely much higher, but health providers have been slow to update.

A second "Vaccination Super Station" opened Thursday in Chula Vista. A smaller vaccine site opened Sunday in National City. These are intended to provide relief to the hard-hit South Bay region and its Latino population.

Latinos make up around 34% of the county's total population but comprise 56.9% of all COVID-19 cases, 54.2% of all hospitalizations from the virus and 44.1% of the deaths.

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