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Retail capacity now limited to 25 percent

San Joaquin County has been placed back in the purple tier – California’s most restrictive coronavirus classification.

That resulted in immediate impacts on businesses throughout the county ranging from closing gyms down and forcing restaurants to abandon indoor dining to retail stores limiting customers to 25 percent capacity.

While county officials were waiting until today to see the standard rollout of the state’s recommendations based on a wide-ranging set of metrics, California Governor Gavin Newsom announced on Monday that a number of counties would be immediately placed in more-restrictive tiers after the state’s coronavirus situation deteriorated over the course of the last week including in San Joaquin County.

The restrictions, which were announced on Monday, officially went into effect this morning – a deviation from the typical 72-hour window that the state provides before counties will have to impose stricter rules – and will end indoor operations of gyms, movie theaters, churches, restaurants, and entertainment venues throughout the county.

While the tightening of restrictions will affect businesses, it is not expected to impact schools in Manteca Unified that have already returned to in-person learning – based on the criteria that the state had previously set, schools that were already back in session would not be closed just because the county they are operating in had their coronavirus classification downgraded.

According to San Joaquin County Supervising Public Health Educator Daniel Kim, the announcement on Monday came as somewhat of a surprise to even those in the public health community – while a return to the “purple tier” was expected with surging numbers, the immediate downgrade was not something that they were anticipating.

“According to the Governor’s press conference, their reasoning is because of the rising number of cases across the state,” Kim said. “Typically, they give three days after they announce that a change is coming, but they feel that there is a need for immediate response and are only giving until tomorrow (Tuesday) to implement that.”

The change means that gyms, movie theaters, family entertainment centers, museums, restaurants, and places to worship can no longer operate indoors, although most can operate outdoors with modifications. Retail stores and shopping centers – which were open in the red tier at 50 percent of capacity – will see a further reduction to only 25 percent of capacity heading into the busy holiday shopping season.

Because of the sharp rise in the percentage of positive test results in San Joaquin County, the previous plan to try and boost the number of people being tested in hopes that the county would qualify for break that could allow for the total percentage to be cut in half in the modeling that determines placement on the scale now appears to be futile – even if the county were to halve the current percentage, it would still be above the threshold for placement in the purple tier and the business restrictions that come with it.

At this point, Kim said, the county is now focusing its efforts on educating the public in advance of the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday. They are hoping to encourage people to observe the guidelines and criteria set by the state so as to not overwhelm hospitals in the county that are starting to fill up with coronavirus patients.

Last week San Joaquin County had only 58 people hospitalized with the novel coronavirus, but that number increased to 81 by Monday afternoon – including three more COVID-positive cases that required ICU care. While the county did drop one percentage point in ICU capacity during the one-week span, from 105 percent down to 104 percent as of Monday afternoon, it saw a 5 percent rise in the number of hospitalizations.

All of those metrics, Kim said, should give people pause when determining what they are going to do next week for what is typically an indoor family-gathering holiday.

“The big push right now is to let people know that this isn’t really the year or the time to do a lot of big family gatherings and maybe right now is the time to modify their plans for Thanksgiving,” said Kim, who noted that the state is recommending gatherings of no more than three families with modifications. “We strongly encourage people to take these precautions seriously because they will help in reducing exposures and right now, we’re hoping to get through this winter and to the point that a vaccine is ready.

“But even that is going to take some time, and people need to continue doing what they can to protect themselves and their family – wear a mask, limit exposure to others, and wash their hands for seconds with soap and water.”

To contact reporter Jason Campbell email or call 209.249.3544.