San Mateo and Marin counties advancing into red reopening tier; S.F. stays purple for now, but that could change soon – San Francisco Chronicle

San Mateo and Marin counties on Tuesday advanced to the second-most restrictive category of California’s reopening blueprint, according to California Department of Public Health. Both exited the purple tier, the category that imposes the strictest coronavirus rules.

Currently, all but 11 counties in the state are in the purple tier. But Gov. Gavin Newsom said Tuesday that as coronavirus case rates continue to plummet in the Bay Area and across California, five counties are transitioning to red and he anticipates another eight will be allowed to loosen restrictions next week — and “even more still in two weeks.”

San Francisco, which remains in the purple tier for now despite having lower case numbers and positive test rates than both San Mateo and Marin counties, may be among those that advance.

Mayor London Breed, speaking at a Washington Post Live forum Tuesday, said she “hopes to make some announcements next week about some additional things that we can reopen,” which includes things like museums and personal.

She also said “restaurants will be able to expand,” but did not elaborate.

Counties that fall under the red tier can allow retail stores and malls to operate with 50% indoor capacity; indoor museums, zoos, movie theaters and dining at 25% capacity; and indoor gyms and fitness studios at 10%. Cultural ceremonies, such as weddings and funerals, are also allowed indoors at 25% capacity or with 100 people, whichever is fewer.

“This is great news for our small businesses and our entire community,” said David Canepa, board of supervisors chairman for San Mateo County.

A day after the United States topped the milestone of 500,000 COVID-19 deaths, Newsom said the numbers across the state continue to move in the right direction with cases, hospitalizations and deaths.

“When we talk about light, I’m talking about bright light at the end of this tunnel,” Newsom said.

The state’s color-coded tier system has four levels: purple (widespread), red (substantial), orange (moderate) and yellow (minimal). Tier assignment is based on three factors: new cases per 100,000 people, positive test rate, and a health equity metric keyed to the positive test rate in disadvantaged communities.

Humboldt, Shasta and Yolo counties also moved from purple to red on Tuesday; while Trinity county dropped back to red from the orange tier.

The state’s metrics remain confusing.

Four Bay Area counties — San Francisco, Napa, Santa Clara and San Mateo — reported red tier data on Monday, but only San Mateo County moved out of the purple tier. Marin County moved to the red tier despite reporting adjusted case rates that are still in the purple tier.

One explanation for the movement is the health equity score, which is the positive test rate for specific low-income and disadvantaged neighborhoods. The score is meant to measure how well counties are managing case rates and testing in communities hardest hit by the pandemic.

According to the state reopening blueprint, counties can progress from purple to red if they report a health equity score of 5% or lower for two weeks in a row. San Mateo and Marin counties were the only ones in the Bay Area to meet that criteria.

“We’ve focused on our hardest-hit communities, and it seems to be paying off,” said Dr. Matt Willis, Marin County Public Health Officer, in a statement. “It’s especially encouraging to see this progress as we move toward vaccinating essential workers. Adding the protection of the vaccine will help seal this progress for the whole community.”

The transition to the red tier also means any Marin school that has not yet reopened to some form of in-person instruction will be eligible to do so beginning March 1, county officials said.

San Mateo County officials noted that reopening decisions for public schools are made by school boards and the county education department.

Newsom also signed pandemic aid legislation on Tuesday, providing direct $600 payments to millions of low-income Californians and making small businesses eligible for billions of dollars’ worth of grants and tax deductions.

The Legislature on Monday overwhelmingly approved the package, which is distinct from the relief package pending in Washington.

“We have to recognize our responsibility to do more and do better to help these small businesses in this very trying time,” Newsom said.

The $7.6 billion package will waive some business fees to help ease their financial picture. The package will grow to $10 billion within a few years, Newsom said.

Chronicle staff writers Erin Allday, Michael Williams, Trisha Thadani and Kellie Hwang contributed to this report.

Aidin Vaziri is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: avaziri@sfchronicle.com