Santa Clara County to keep indoor dining, theaters shut even if state allows reopening

Even if Santa Clara County jumps into the next rung of Gov. Gavin Newsom’s reopening system next week — paving the way for a host of indoor businesses like restaurants and movie theaters to potentially welcome back customers — the county plans to maintain its current restrictions for most indoor activities, a top official said Thursday.

Newsom’s new color-coded framework tracks counties’ positivity rate and cases per 100,000 residents. Counties may move from purple (widespread transmission) to red (substantial) to orange (moderate) to yellow (minimal) after spending a minimum of three weeks in each category.

State officials have informed Santa Clara that it’s likely to jump from the “purple” zone into the “red” zone starting next Tuesday based off its coronavirus case rate, County CEO Jeff Smith told this news organization. Under state guidance, indoor restaurants could reopen at 25% capacity, along with movie theaters, places of worship and museums — but that doesn’t mean the county will follow suit.

“We won’t be allowing indoor theaters or indoor dining,” Smith said. “Being in a congregation or a theater or a sports venue or in a restaurant gathering is a very risky behavior.”

Santa Clara began the week in the lowest tier alongside much of California, with a case rate topping eight infections per 100,000 residents. But because the county has done more testing on average than the state overall, that rate has been adjusted downward to 6.7 cases per 100,000 — making it eligible for the “red” tier alongside San Francisco and Napa.

When the new system was rolled out, Santa Clara and most other Bay Area counties gave the green light for salons, barbershops and malls to reopen, or continue operating, at limited 25% capacity. But reopening indoor restaurants and other gathering spaces right away isn’t on the menu in the South Bay, Smith said.

Starting in July, Health Officer Dr. Sara Cody shifted to a “risk reduction” model that eased restrictions on many businesses, including gyms and salons. According to Smith, that order is unlikely to change significantly in the coming weeks.

“In our situation, the county order would prevail in a number of those situations,” Smith said. “The public health officer made the decision that indoor gatherings are much greater risk than outdoor gatherings, which is substantiated in the studies.”

Santa Clara isn’t the only county to hold off. San Francisco, which was initially placed into the “red” zone for its lower case and positivity rate, stuck to its more restrictive order despite the go-ahead from the state. Napa meanwhile followed state guidance to reopen indoor dining.

In a Board of Supervisors meeting Tuesday, County Counsel James Williams told supervisors that the county will still strive for “as little friction as possible” between the state and local directives when it comes to industry-specific guidance — but when in doubt, the more restrictive order will still apply.

“The local orders, like our county’s risk reduction order and associated local directives, remain in effect,” Williams said. “That includes our density requirements, strict face covering requirements and social distancing protocol requirements.”

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