Movie theaters, gyms and restaurants can reopen in Santa Clara County starting Wednesday, after county officials announced that the region is returning to California's less-restrictive red tier.
The announcement comes amid declining COVID-19 cases in the county and a significant drop in hospitalizations, turning a corner on an explosive increase in cases over the winter. Santa Clara is one of seven counties to join the red tier on March 3.
The change means that indoor dining can finally resume for the first time since November, and gyms and fitness centers will be allowed to operate indoors at 10% capacity. Movie theaters, museums, zoos and aquariums are all allowed to open at 25% capacity.
Santa Clara County Health Officer Dr. Sara Cody said it's been just a few days shy of one year since she issued her first public health orders in March 2020, and that the county has since endured a "devastating" winter surge that claimed the lives of too many county residents. But with case counts down and vaccinations providing a clear path to recovery, she said the county is prepared to ease public health restrictions.
"It's been an extraordinarily long year for everyone," she said. "We have and we will continue to do everything that we can to safeguard the health of everyone living and working in our county."
The last time Santa Clara County entered the red tier, many of the activities that were allowed under the state's framework remained banned in the county. Indoor dining, for example, was not allowed to resume until October.
That will not be the case this time. Cody said the relaxed public health rules will be largely aligned with the state on Wednesday, though she cautioned residents against participating in risky activities.
"Please remember, just because the state's framework may allow an activity, that doesn't mean it's safe," she said.
What remains in place is the county's guidance that all activities should be moved outdoors whenever possible and that residents should keep wearing masks regardless of whether it's required. Residents also are asked to keep a safe social distance from people they do not live with and to get vaccinated as soon as possible.
County Counsel James Williams said residents are also advised, though no longer required, to quarantine after traveling and that people are still being asked to avoid travel whenever possible.
Supervisor Susan Ellenberg cautioned that the county is still not "home free" just yet, and that COVID-19 and its more virulent variants are still infecting people every day. But the reduced deaths, lower positivity rates and vaccine availability show that there is progress worth celebrating.
"We are starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel," she said.
Find comprehensive coverage on the Midpeninsula's response to the new coronavirus by Palo Alto Online, the Mountain View Voice and the Almanac here.