The restrictions are back.
Residents will no longer be able to dine indoors at restaurants, attend church indoors, or go to the cinema or to gyms as of Saturday as the County reenters restrictions that were lifted earlier this year but are being reapplied as the coronavirus heats up.
After posting a case rate of more than 7 cases per 100,000 residents for two consecutive weeks, the state is placing the County in the Purple Tier, the most restrictive level of its system that limits activities based on risk of spreading COVID-19.
The County’s case rate increased to 7.4, then 8.9 over the past two weeks; therefore, the region must stop indoor operations at restaurants, gyms, churches and movie theaters starting Saturday, Nov. 14. Retailers will need to keep customers at 25% of capacity.
“The key to decreasing cases is wearing a mask, maintaining social distance, avoiding gatherings and following other public health recommendations,” said Wilma Wooten, M.D., M.P.H., County public health officer. “We understand that people have COVID fatigue, but we have to do what we know works.”
The County will remain in the Purple Tier for at least three weeks. It won’t be able to advance to the Red Tier unless it posts a case rate below 7 cases per 100,000 residents two weeks in a row.
Escondido City Mayor Paul McNamara reacted to the news: “It is unfortunate and disappointing that we are moving into the more restrictive Purple designation. I know our small businesses have worked valiantly to adapt throughout this COVID crisis. I feel confident that they will continue to innovate as they have in the past, but I recognize this must seem like a step backwards for them. I would encourage all of the residents of our community to recommit to supporting our local businesses.”
Local business owners, especially restaurants, are expecting hard times like they haven’t experience since spring.
James Rowten, CEO of the Escondido Chamber of Commerce, told The Times-Advocate: “The latest edict by the Governor mandates the County move to the Purple Tier, the most restrictive level of its system that limits activities, is severe.
“With the holidays upon us, the time change and the weather changing to our typical cool/cold evenings the restrictions beginning this Saturday are going to be very hard on our business community. Of particular note will be our restaurants, and retail stores including grocery stores. Looking at the total County numbers Escondido is #3 in total reported cases of COVID-19 and the highest of all cities in north County. The overall testing positivity rate for all of San Diego County actually dropped from 3.2 percent to 2.6 percent.”
Rowten added, “Safely operating businesses, protecting employees, wearing masks, washing hands and socially distancing while targeting and directing resources directly to the most vulnerable from this virus would provide a needed balance to our lives and help keep many businesses from going under. Sadly, we’ll have to wait a minimum of 3 weeks before we have a chance of any change.”
Louisa Magoon of the Grand Tea Room, and a member of the Downtown Business Association, sent out this sentiment to fellow restaurant owners Tuesday, “We’re definitely back in the purple tier and many businesses have to close for inside services starting Saturday. So disappointing. For me, things were finally looking pretty good and now we’re going backwards again.”
The Times-Advocate spoke to Joe Goncalves, owner of J&M’s Restaurant, who said that it is very difficult to survive as a restaurant owner when it’s impossible to predict what rules will be in force from one week to another. “It just can’t work with twenty-five percent capacity,” and no indoor dining, he said.
The state’s health equity metric also increased from 5.3 to 6.5 and remains in the Red Tier or Tier 2. This metric looks at the testing positivity for areas with the lowest healthy conditions and does not move counties to more restrictive tiers but is required to advance.
As the County has ramped up testing in the region, the testing positivity percentage decreased from 3.2% to 2.6%, placing it in Tier 3 or the Orange Tier, where it has been since the state adopted this level system.
“If we don’t continue to take proven, preventive precautions, we won’t be able to get out of the Purple Tier and loosen restrictions,” Wooten said.
The California Department of Public Health assesses counties on a weekly basis. The next report is scheduled for Tuesday, November 17.