Ventura County moves to state’s red COVID-19 tier, paving way for more sectors to reopen

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Ventura County on Tuesday was moved into a less-restrictive stage of California’s tiered reopening plan, allowing the region to reopen more sectors of its economy.

The county is now in the state’s red tier, which permits indoor operations to resume at restaurants, houses of worship, gyms and fitness centers, movie theaters, and all personal care services — with modifications, including limits on capacity and health requirements.

Additionally, by moving from the most restrictive purple tier to the red tier, businesses that were already open can increase capacity or services. Indoor malls and retail stores, for instance, can have a maximum occupancy 50%, whereas the limit in the purple tier is 25%.

“This is great news for our County and our business community. We will continue to advocate for our local businesses and appreciate this opportunity to move forward,” Mike Powers, the county’s executive officer, said in a news release.

Once Ventura County has been in the red tier for two weeks, schools will be permitted to reopen for in-person instruction. The earliest that could happen is Oct. 21.

However, that will be up to the individual school districts to decide whether to allow students back on campus once the region meets the state’s threshold, according to a news release from the Ventura County Office of Education

“Some schools may choose to reopen their campuses later than October 21 for a variety of reasons,” the release noted.

Additionally, schools will have to follow a set of safety guidelines, including physical distancing measures and classroom capacity limits.

Ventura County was able to move into a new phase after seeing its average COVID-19 case rate drop below 7 per 100,000, and a decline in its testing positivity rate to under 8%, both thresholds to get the red tier. Those indicators demonstrate that there is still “substantial” risk of the virus spreading, but it’s not “widespread” as in the purple tier.

The county’s current case rate is 5.5 per 100,000 people, which is consistent with the red tier. The county’s testing positivity rate of 3%, meanwhile, would qualify the area for the even lower orange tier.

In order to make the move, that number will have to remain steady, while the case rate would have to drop below 4 — and both figures would have to hold for two consecutive weeks. However, the county has to remain in its tier for three weeks, at the minimum, meaning the earliest date is Oct. 28.

“The credit belongs to our residents, who have made lots of sacrifices and worked hard to improve our community transmission metrics,” said Rigoberto Vargas, the county’s public health director, said in a statement. “That same hard work must continue moving forward so that we don’t revert back to the purple tier and instead continue making progress towards the next tier, orange, so that additional businesses can reopen.”

Other counties in Southern California that are in the red tier include Orange, Riverside, San Diego and neighboring Santa Barbara.

There still has been no movement in the tiered, color-coded system for Los Angeles and San Bernardino counties.

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