Marin County Public Health Officer Matt Willis announced Friday that he is moving in tandem with other Bay Area counties to tighten restrictions due to troubling local increases in COVID-19 infections.
“We are making a decision to adopt red tier policies preemptively because our case numbers are increasing so dramatically,” Willis said. “The projections are we could even be moving into the purple tier before the end of the month.”
Willis said effective Tuesday he is directing all bars and breweries and indoor pools to close. Restaurants, movie theater concessions and food courts must suspend indoor service. San Francisco banned indoor dining earlier this week.
“As COVID-19 rates increase, indoor environments where facial covering is not used, like restaurants, become less safe because there’s a higher probability that you’re sharing the space with someone who is infected,” Willis said in a statement. “This isn’t limited to the business environment but applies to holiday gatherings and travel as well.”
Many other Marin businesses are also affected by the order. Retail stores and malls must reduce their capacity to 50%. Museums and places of worship must cut capacity to 25%. Gyms and fitness centers must reduce capacity to 10%.
Several venues – wineries, family entertainment centers and card rooms – are allowed to operate outdoors only.
The state of California adopted a color-coded tier system to determine how quickly counties are allowed to reopen their businesses and schools following the summer’s shutdown to quell the pandemic. “Tier 1,” the most restrictive tier, is colored purple; “tier 2” is red; “tier 3” is orange; and “tier 4,” the least restrictive category, is yellow.
Marin started in tier 1 in August. It moved to tier 2 in mid-September and graduated to tier 3 in late October. To advance to tier 3, a county must have a daily case rate of 3.9 or lower; 4.9% test positivity or lower; and a health equity metric of 5.2% or lower.
Under the state’s rules, counties must maintain the minimum numbers of the tier it wants to graduate to for two consecutive weeks before moving up. By the same token, if a county’s infection rate increases beyond the minimum standards of the tier it is in over two weeks, it will be demoted. If a county moves to a lower tier, it must remain there for at least three weeks.
“Rather than wait for the state to impose those restrictions,” Willis said. “We want to get in front of this and prevent it from occurring.”
Marin’s COVID-19 case rates have nearly doubled in the past 10 days. On Thursday, Marin County reported 41 new infections and six hospitalizations due to the virus.
Mary Jane Burke, Marin County superintendent of schools, said the public health order will have no immediate effect on local schools. Many Marin schools were able to obtain state waivers to open even when Marin was in tier 1. All schools in tier 2 counties are allowed to open for class-based instruction.
Burke said local educators will be consulting with public health officials next week to determine if they should switch back to virtual learning for a time following the holidays.
“We will be looking at the data carefully,” Burke said.
Marin’s business community reacted to the new health directive with great disappointment.
“This is not the news we wanted to hear from the county,” said Coy Smith, CEO of the Novato Chamber of Commerce. “It will once again create additional financial burdens on local businesses and the entire economy. We were already concerned about the change in weather and how that would affect outdoor dining and other activities.”
Joanne Webster, CEO of the San Rafael Chamber of Commerce, said, “This is devastating news to the business community, especially the restaurants. They have worked so hard and now the rainy season is upon us, which makes utilizing outdoor spaces nearly impossible.
“That is why we need residents to shop Marin this holiday season; to make a conscious effort to spend less on Amazon and more in our local businesses,” Webster said. “Our support is critical to their survival.”
Jim Welte, the Mill Valley Chamber of Commerce’s director of membership and community engagement, said a scaling back of indoor restaurant service from 50% to 25% would have been manageable.
“But the removal of indoor dining as an option completely, particularly as the weather gets bad today, is extremely unfortunate,” Welte said. “We’d love to hear some additional clarity around what is driving this recent spike and what is being done to address its causes beyond impacting our already beleaguered restaurants.”
Willis told county supervisors on Tuesday that the recent spike in cases seems to be occurring due to indoor gatherings. He said for the first time since the pandemic began a majority of the new infections were occurring among White residents rather than Latinos, many of whom were forced to work through the shutdown to feed their families and share crowded living spaces.