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San Diego County moving to orange tier Wednesday as vaccinations increase

REGION – San Diego County will officially move into the orange tier of the state’s coronavirus reopening system tomorrow, owing to the state reaching the milestone of 4 million vaccinations administered in the low-income communities that have been hardest hit by the pandemic.

Meeting that goal triggers an adjustment of the state’s Blueprint for a Safer Economy that will allow San Diego County to quickly advance into the less-restrictive orange tier, allowing for increased attendance limits at most businesses and a reopening of bars outdoors.

“San Diego is officially moving into the orange tier, yet another significant step in our recovery from COVID-19,” County Supervisor Nathan Fletcher said. “The vaccine has given us a path to save lives, restore our economy, send our kids back to school and get our way of life back. The combination of a low case rate plus the state hitting vaccine milestones allows us to continue moving forward.”

The orange tier includes restaurants being able to operate at 50% of capacity – or 200 customers, whichever is fewer – while bars without food service may begin outdoors operations, museums, zoos, aquariums and movie theaters may have 50% of capacity indoors and amusement parks may increase attendance to 25% of capacity for in-state visitors. A 10 p.m. curfew for all restaurants, bars, breweries, distilleries and wineries in place since July is lifted.

Additionally, live events such as sports and concerts can increase attendance to 33% of capacity for in-state fans.

On a broader scale, California health officials said Tuesday that all state COVID-19 restrictions on businesses, gatherings and recreational activities will be lifted June 15, although a mask mandate will remain in place.

Assuming continued availability of vaccines and no major spikes in COVID-19 hospitalizations between now and then, the state will do away with its Blueprint for a Safer Economy, the four-tier, color-coded system that has guided economic reopening through a series of restrictions and attendance limits.

California Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly said the June 15 date was chosen for being two months after COVID-19 vaccines are made available to all Californians aged 16 and over. And the decision to lift all the blueprint requirements comes in response to rising vaccination numbers and continued decreases in all key pandemic-tracking metrics, such as case numbers, positivity rates and hospitalizations.

Ghaly stressed that the statewide mask mandate will remain in place “to prevent illness and promote health.”

He noted that the June 15 date could possibly be adjusted if the state begins over the next two months to experience rises in hospitalization numbers or a sudden lack of vaccine supply. He urged all residents to ensure the move occurs on time by continuing to practice infection-control measures.

Gov. Gavin Newsom echoed that sentiment, saying residents cannot get careless in the coming weeks about taking precautions – particularly in the face of increasing COVID variants that can be more infectious and could potentially be more resistant to vaccines.

The governor said that when the blueprint is scrapped, he expects schools, community colleges and universities across the state to return to in-person instruction – although he stopped short of saying they would be required to do so.

San Diego County public health officials reported 127 new COVID-19 infections Monday, raising the total to 271,654, while hospitalizations related to the virus dropped to 189, eight fewer than a day earlier. The number of patients in intensive care units increased by two to 57. There were no additional deaths reported, leaving the total at 3,583.

Of the 5,517 tests reported Monday, 2% returned positive. The 14-day running average as tallied by the county is 2.2%.

Nearly 2 million COVID-19 vaccine doses have been delivered to San Diego County, according to the San Diego County Health & Human Services Agency, and 1,034,511 county residents – or 38.5% – have received at least one dose of the two-dose vaccines.

A total of 611,154 people in San Diego County – or 22.7% – are fully vaccinated.

These numbers include both county residents and those who work in San Diego County. The state’s goal is to vaccinate 75% of people 16 and older to achieve herd immunity – around 2.02 million San Diegans.

Update 6:26 p.m. April 7: Story was updated to say that a 10 p.m. curfew for restaurants and other businesses is lifted.