Pictured: Dr. Robert Levin, health officer with Ventura County Public Health, Jan. 2021. Screen capture from live video. 

by Kimberly Rivers

Yesterday Ventura County officials announced the county’s shift to the less restrictive red tier today, Wednesday, March 17. The move means many restrictions on restaurants and schools are loosened, and grocery stores don’t need to make customers wait outside. 

Public Health Director Rigoberto Vargas said he’s confident that the county is ready to promptly move into the orange tier, the next less restrictive step in the state’s pandemic management plan, when the state meets the goal of two million more people being vaccinated. 

State rules for the red tier continue to require physical distancing and the wearing of masks, and that cleaning and infection-prevention practices remain in place.

 Dr. Robert Levin, health officer with Ventura County Public Health, cited declining case rates and increased vaccination rates as contributing to the county qualifying for the less restrictive measures. 

 “This is a pivotal moment. If our community continues to be cautious and follow public health guidance, things will continue to improve.  If people let down their guard and begin engaging in risky activities, we will likely see another surge in cases,” said Levin. 

Vargas reported the county saw 79 new cases and 7 new deaths, bringing the total number of positive cases over the past year in Ventura County to 78,792 and total deaths from COVID-19 to 932. Fifty-seven people are currently hospitalized, and 22 people require treatment in the ICU. 

The county is able to move into the red tier now because it has met state requirements in three areas to qualify: the seven-day adjusted case rate, the seven-day testing positivity rate and the health equity metric. 

As of Tuesday, March 16, Ventura County’s case rate is 6.5, testing positivity rate is 2.8% and health equity testing positivity rate is 5.0%. The testing positivity rate and equity testing positivity rates qualify for the orange tier.

Red-Tier Reopening Rules

Schools: Districts now have the option of returning fully to in-person instruction in grades 7-12, with adherence to state and county directives. Kindergarten through sixth grade already had the option of reopening with full on-campus instruction. 

Restaurants: Starting on Wednesday, March 17, restaurants can open indoor dining rooms at 25% capacity, up to 100 people, and restaurants can stay open past 11 p.m. People can also dine out with those outside of their household. The guidance for red tiers allows people from up to three households to gather, which includes dining together. 

Standalone grocery stores: Able to open to full capacity.

Bars: If no food is served bars must remain closed.

Breweries, wineries, distilleries: These establishments that do not also sell food are able to open outdoors only with certain restrictions including seating customers only by reservation and only for 90 minutes. Onsite consumption of alcohol has to cease at 8 p.m.  

Retail shopping: Any shops that could not open before due to being fully indoors can now open at half their full capacity. Indoor shopping malls can increase capacity to 50%, but common areas will remain closed. Food courts in malls can open at a quarter of full capacity and must follow all state guidelines for restaurants. 

Movie theaters: can now open indoors at 25% capacity with up to 100 people allowed in a single theater. 

Gyms, fitness centers, yoga and dance studios: All are allowed to open indoors at 10% capacity and must abide by six foot distancing instead of the previous 12-foot requirement. 

Museums, zoos, aquariums: Indoor activities can open at 25% of full capacity. 

Private gatherings: Indoor and outdoor gatherings with up to three different households is allowed. 

Entertainment centers and venues: Locations offering mini-golf, kart racing, batting cages and similar activities can open outdoors with some modifications per the state guidelines. Card rooms are allowed to open outdoor only. Bowling alleys, arcades and concert venues must remain closed. 

Future changes

Kim Prillhart, director of the Ventura County Resource Management Agency, which includes code compliance and oversees enforcement of pandemic restrictions, informed the supervisors that some openings are on the horizon. 

Effective April 1, outdoor live events with assigned seating can open at 20% capacity, with in-state ticket holders only. Workers at these venues must be tested for the coronavirus weekly. 

Also on April 1, amusement parks can open with online ticket purchasing, 15% capacity and no out-of-state visitors. Indoor dining will remain prohibited at amusement parks. 

Overnight camps can begin operations on June 1.

For more information please visit www.venturacountyrecovers.org or by calling the COVID Business Compliance line at 805-202-1805 or email covidcompliance@ventura.org