The new equity tier reopening guidelines provide California counties with a more accurate description of what restrictions they must abide by 

A few weeks ago, the California State Department of Public Health announced new requirements for counties to safely reopen. All counties within the state are to be placed on a tier-ranked system that displays the COVID-19 infection density within an area. 

This tier system has now replaced the previous “watch-list” method of tracking. Each respective county will be evaluated based upon their number of daily cases and tests per capita, then placed into a color group. 

Each tier represents the positivity rate of COVID-19 cases in a given county. The tiers are classified by colors which correlate to a county’s rate of test positivity: yellow indicates less than 2% positivity, orange indicates 2-4.9% positivity, red indicates 5-8% positivity and purple indicates higher than 8% positivity. 

Graphic by ZU News

A county’s restrictions will be determined by which color they are classified by. For instance, a county in the yellow zone will be allowed to reopen restaurants for indoor seating at 50% capacity, whereas a county in the purple zone must prohibit any indoor dining experience. 

The California Department of Public Health stated, “Every county in California is assigned to a tier based on its test positivity and adjusted case rate for tier assignment including metrics from the last three weeks. 

In order to make sure the tier system is successfully executed, two factors must be considered: test rates and rates of infection. As CalChamber states, if both factors are shown to be decreasing, then counties will be placed under fewer limitations, henceforth, allowed to reopen a greater quantity of businesses and locations.

Recently, a third metric was added to the reopening plan, called the California Health Equity Metric. This metric is to be used to combat the fact that the virus has had a significantly higher effect on minority communities.

Currently California uses the Healthy Places Index (HPI) to measure socioeconomic opportunities. Using this measurement, a study found that though the lowest quartile is only made up of 24% of the state, they make up 40% of COVID-19 cases. To address this, the state’s new measures require that in order for a county, of 106,000 residents or more, to move into a less restrictive tier, the lowest quartile’s test positivity rate must also meet the requirements of the lower tier.

Orange County Supervisor, Don Wagner, said in regards to the state legislature’s recent enactment of the colored tier system, “It will … make it harder to safely reopen, which is the one thing we should be encouraging as that will benefit the most people, and especially the young people in our disadvantaged communities who are most impacted by the digital divide, educational uncertainties and challenges to accessing the American dream.

To help counties decrease their positivity rate and reopen businesses sooner, Gov. Gavin Newsom has recently signed bills such as SB 1159, which relates to workers’ compensation, and AB 685, which mandates that businesses prevent their employees from working if there is a suspected COVID-19 exposure in their workplace. Essential medical care, wage compensation, child care and access to personal protective equipment will be provided for employees who test positive for COVID-19 via these new laws. These provisions are set to last until January 2023. 

In response to the passing of this legislation, Gov. Newsom commented, “Protecting workers is critical to slowing the spread of this virus. These two laws will help California workers stay safe at work and get the support they need if they are exposed to COVID-19.”

With added employee protections flowing into damaged counties, coronavirus infections and deaths are expected to decrease over the following weeks. 

Some critics have argued that extending mandates for counties to remain closed will further harm low-income communities. However, supporters state these precautions are necessary to keep citizens safe from becoming infected and will decrease the burden on our healthcare system, a system which has endured rising hospitalization rates across the nation in recent weeks. 

As of Tuesday, ten California counties were moved from the purple zone to the red zone, three counties were moved from the red zone to the orange zone and one county was moved from the orange zone to the yellow zone.