Governor Gavin Newsom has announced a new four-tier, color coded classification system that determines which California counties can move forward with reopening businesses. This is a move away from the “watch list” system of tracking coronavirus trends. The system includes four tiers: purple, red, yellow, and orange. Purple means there is widespread COVID-19 transmission in the county and nearly all businesses have to severely limit their indoor operations, or close their indoor operations entirely. On the other end of the spectrum, yellow indicates minimal COVID-19 spread and allows for nearly all businesses to reopen indoor operations (as long as physical distancing and face covering requirements are in place). Governor Newsom explained that California chose not to use green as one of the colors, to signal that no industry should expect to operate “all systems go,” as they did pre-COVID-19.
Tier Criteria Include New Cases Per 100,000 Residents or Overall Positivity Rate
Widespread – Purple: Counties with more than 7 daily new cases per 100,000 residents or higher than 8% positivity. Most non-essential indoor business operations are closed. Note: Schools in a purple tier county will not re-open unless they receive a waiver from their local health department for TK-6 grades.
Substantial – Red: 4 to 7 daily new cases per 100,000 residents or 5-8% positivity. Some non-essential indoor businesses closed.
Moderate – Orange: 1 to 3.9 daily new cases per 100,000 or 2-4.9% positivity. Some indoor business operations open with modifications.
Minimal – Yellow: Less than 1 daily new case per 100,000 or less than 2% positivity. Most indoor business operations open with modifications.
How Do I Know if My Business Can Open?
At Duggan Law Corporation, we continue to monitor the restrictions applicable to our clients’ industries and we regularly assist employers as they navigate the new restrictions and guidelines. We also suggest that employers take advantage of several helpful resources provided by the State of California.
California’s Blueprint for a Safer Economy site offers a user-friendly tool for anyone to check if their business can reopen and how. Business owners or consumers can check the state map to find their county’s color tier, enter their county and type of business, and obtain the latest status for that county and industry, with links to more specific guidance.
The California Department of Industrial Relations has issued Safe Reopening FAQs for Workers and Employers, which provides information on: requiring employees to wear face coverings and who pays for them; whether time spent taking employee temperatures must be paid (yes); requiring customers to wear face coverings; employers’ obligations to protect workers from others who are infected; what to do when employees are exposed to the virus; and options for employees when they feel their employers are not complying with safety requirements.
The Employer Playbook for Safe Re-Opening is a more comprehensive resource which provides: detailed guidance, links, and information regarding how to open safely; outbreak identification preparedness; what do if there is a COVID-19 outbreak in the workplace; considerations for suspended operations; cleaning guides; types of leave; unemployment benefits; workers compensation issues; and more.
Moving from Tier to Tier More Difficult Under the New System
A big difference between the watchlist system and the new tiered system is that at a minimum, counties must remain in a tier for at least three weeks before being considered for the next tier. They also must have met the new tier’s criteria for two consecutive weeks. If a county’s metrics worsen for two consecutive weeks, it will be assigned a more restrictive tier. Limiting tier movement in this way will hopefully result in less back and forth for businesses that are allowed to reopen, then forced to close back up.
What Can I Do to Help My County Reach a Lower Tier?
As usual, we are all encouraged to: wear a mask in public; wash hands regularly; and keep at least six feet of physical distance when in public. As companies and consumers continue to be vigilant with masks, social distancing, and other safety protocols, hopefully soon we can return to business as (mostly) usual.