Gov. Newsom ditches county watch list, announces new 4-tier reopening framework

Gov. Gavin Newsom announced California is moving away from the "watch list" system of tracking COVID-19 trends and instead moving to a four-tier, color coded classification system that will determine which counties can move forward with business reopenings.

There are four tiers:

  • Widespread (purple): Counties with more than 7 daily new cases per 100,000 residents or higher than 8% positivity rate
  • Substantial (red): 4 to 7 daily new cases per 100,000 residents or 5-8% positivity
  • Moderate (orange): 1 to 3.9 daily new cases per 100,000 or 2-4.9% positivity
  • Minimal (yellow): Less than 1 daily new case per 100,000 or less than 2% positivity

Here's how the color codes will affect counties' reopening plans:
  • Widespread (purple): Most non-essential indoor business operations are closed
  • Substantial (red): Some non-essential indoor businesses closed
  • Moderate (orange): Some indoor business operations open with modifications
  • Minimal (yellow): Most indoor business operations open with modifications

Schools will not be allowed to open in counties in the "purple" category.

Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly explained how that would work with zoos and museums, for example. In a county classified as "purple," they'd only be allowed to open for outdoor visits. "Red" counties may be open indoors at 25% capacity and "orange" counties could open indoor zoos and museums at 50% capacity. For the counties in the "yellow" category, they'd be able to fully open indoors with physical distancing and face covering rules.

As of Friday, 38 California counties are classified as purple, nine are red, eight are orange and three are yellow.

A big difference between the new color-coded system and the old watch list is how quickly counties will be allowed to move on and off. There will be a 21-day mandatory waiting period before counties get downgraded, which will hopefully result in less back and forth for businesses that are allowed to reopen, then forced to close back up.

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Gov. Gavin Newsom says a new partnership with the private sector will help the state perform an additional 150,000 coronavirus tests per day at a lower cost.

"We're going to be more stubborn this time and have a mandatory wait time between moves," said Newsom. "We didn't do that last time and that is a significant distinction from what we learned in the past."

Counties have to meet the metrics (as listed above) for the next tier down for two weeks straight before they're allowed to downgrade. The counties will be assessed weekly and changes will be announced on Tuesday, starting Sept. 8.

Newsom called the change a "more stringent, more steady approach."

"That said," Dr. Ghaly added, "I want to remind you the governor talked about this 'emergency brake' that if we see hospital numbers starting to really increase, that the ICU in a community is becoming overwhelmed ... then we will work with that county to make more immediate changes and pause, and maybe even take a step back."

The governor said a map with all counties and where they stand would be posted Friday afternoon to

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.
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