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San Diego County advances to red tier; indoor dining, gyms opening

REGION — Restaurants, movie theaters, fitness centers and other businesses will be able to resume indoor activities today with San Diego County advancing into the less-restrictive red tier of the state’s COVID-19 reopening blueprint.

The state confirmed the move Tuesday when it reported the county’s new daily COVID case rate was 6.8 per 100,000 population, the second consecutive week with a sub-10 per 100,000 number, allowing for the shift to the red tier. The rate last week was 8.8 per 100,000 residents.

“This is another strong step forward in our responsible recovery from COVID-19,” Board of Supervisors Chair Nathan Fletcher said. “While it has been a long year particularly for our gyms and restaurants, the vaccine has given us hope that we cannot only save lives but get our way of life back.”

The California Department of Public Health updates its county rankings weekly in the state’s Blueprint for a Safer Economy, which governs business restrictions during the COVID-19 pandemic.

State officials modified the blueprint last week when the state reached a 2 million threshold for COVID vaccine doses administered in low-income communities hard-hit by the pandemic.

The modification allowed counties to move more quickly through the blueprint’s four color-coded tiers, allowing San Diego County to escape the most-restrictive purple tier.

The county also posted a seven-day average of 2.8% of COVID-19 tests returning positive and a 4.2% health equity quartile positivity rate.

Both those rates qualify the county for the even less-restrictive orange, or moderate, tier but the state restricts movement between tiers to the worst-performing metric.

A move to the red tier allows for indoor dining and movie theaters at 25% capacity or 100 diners — whichever is fewer, as well as gyms operating at 10% capacity indoors, and museums, zoos and aquariums at 25% indoors.

Retail businesses in shopping centers can increase capacity from 25% to 50% in the red tier. School districts may reopen without seeking a waiver.

Higher education institutions can also reopen to in-person, indoors instruction at 25% capacity or 100 people — whichever is fewer.

Also, live outdoor events will allow for 20% capacity — meaning fans could be in the stands for the San Diego Padres’ opening day game April 1.

A full list of what changes between tiers can be found at covid19.ca.gov/safer-economy/.

San Diego County public health officials reported 257 new COVID-19 infections and 10 deaths Tuesday, increasing the total cases to 265,906. The death count to remains at 3,462.

Of 8,790 tests reported Tuesday, 3% returned positive. The 14-day rolling average is 2.8%.

Hospitalizations on Tuesday decreased to 290 from Monday’s 300, while patients in intensive care beds increased by two to 97. There are 72 staffed, available ICU beds in San Diego County.

A COVID-19 vaccination clinic in Oceanside began administering shots Tuesday. The walk-in clinic offers vaccines from 9:30 a.m.-3:30 p.m. Sunday through Thursday at the North Coastal Health and Human Services Agency building, 1701 Mission Ave.

The clinic will have the capacity to offer up to 700 shots daily, 200 more doses than the other clinic which was located at 3708 Ocean Ranch Blvd. Appointments will be required at the new clinic and some doses will be set aside for residents living in the 92058 ZIP code.

The county’s first and largest vaccination super site will close Saturday. The Petco Park site, which has provided more than 200,000 Moderna vaccines, has closed multiple times due to lack of vaccines, but with the Padres preparing for opening day, its closure was inevitable.

The county, UC San Diego, the city and Padres opened the superstation on Jan. 11. It has five other superstations in La Jolla, Chula Vista, La Mesa, San Marcos and Del Mar, even as the last one faces supply issues of its own.

Scripps Health said the number of vaccines it received this week necessitates shutting down the Del Mar Fairgrounds COVID-19 vaccination super site Wednesday, Friday and Saturday following a weekend shutdown that started Friday. The site is scheduled to be open Thursday.

More than 722,000 — or 26.9% of San Diego County residents over the age of 16 — have received at least one dose of the two-shot vaccines and more than 450,000 people — or 16.7% — have been fully vaccinated.