UPDATED with more on Knott’s Berry Farm: The Happiest Place on Earth may be even happier than expected when it reopens in April.
California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced Wednesday that the state is close to meeting its goal of inoculating 2 million Californians in underprivileged communities. That milestone, according a recent order from the state, triggers a relaxing of requirements to move from more-restrictive purple tiers of the governor’s reopening plan to less. Furthermore, Newsom announced last week that theme parks could reopen — at very limited capacity — on April 1.
It won’t matter in Orange County, though. Officials there say they are on track for making it to the red tier by, possibly, March 17. “We expect Orange County to open into the red tier in the coming week,” said Orange County CEO Frank Kim.
Dr. Clayton Chau, chief health officer and director of the Orange County Health Care Agency, told reporters Wednesday that the health department “expect(s) to have two weeks in the red tier on Tuesday and on Wednesday we’ll have an official entry into the red tier.”
The county has credit for meeting the red-tier metrics for a week already, and if the region continues to do so as of Sunday it will be eligible for a graduation up to the red tier. (California requires counties be in a new tier for two consecutive weeks before they can implement that tier’s reopening protocols.) Tier announcements are made on Tuesdays.
The lower tier thresholds triggered by meeting Newsom’s inoculation program goal, however, will help Orange County graduate to the orange tier even sooner than expected, said Kim.
That matters for parks in the county like Disneyland and Knott’s Berry Farm. In the red tier, they can reopen at 15% capacity, with no indoor dining or out of state guests. Indoor capacity is capped at 15%, as well.
Knott’s officials said Friday, however, that the OC park won’t reopen until May, with a spokeswoman saying it still has “some work to do.”
But in the orange tier, parks graduate to 25% capacity, a 2/3 increase in attendance that will likely be music to the ears of locals shut inside for the past year. Indoor capacity is also 25% in orange, according to the most current California tiering chart.
Chau agreed with Kim’s prediction, but noted once Orange County makes it to the red tier, it will have to stay put for at least three weeks.
“It will be easier for us to move up to the orange tier,” said Chau. While the county’s numbers may qualify them before then Chau said, “the soonest we can get into the orange tier will be after the first week of April.” That’s because counties must stay in a tier for 3 weeks before moving on to another.
That early April window is important because Disney CEO Bob Chapek said this week that Disneyland will reopen in “late April.” If that’s the case and Orange County officials’ prognostications hold true, the park will be able to reopen not at 15% capacity, but 25%.
The county’s test positivity rate improved to 3.2% from 3.9% last Tuesday, and the adjusted case rate per 100,000 people on a seven-day average with a seven-day lag improved from 7.6 to 6. The county’s Health Equity Quartile rate, which measures positivity in hotspots in disadvantaged communities, improved from 4.9% last week to 4.1%.
The county is in the red tier with case rates per 100,000 and in the orange tier for the positivity rates. To get to the red tier, the county has to have a case rate per 100,000 population of 4 to 7, a positivity rate of 5% to 8% and a Health Equity Quartile rate of 5.3% to 8%. To get to orange, the case rate has to be under 4 per 100,000.
The red tier allows for many more businesses and organizations to reopen. For instance, retail stores could allow for half capacity instead of 25%, and museums, zoos and aquariums could reopen for indoor activities at 25% capacity, as could movie theaters, gyms and restaurants.
City News Service contributed to this report.
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