California Announces New “Blueprint For A Safer Economy” That Includes Significant Changes to Reopening Guidance

By Brooke Tabshouri

After being the first state to shut down its whole economy in mid-March response to the COVID-19 crisis, California began reopening in May.  After attempting to do so on a statewide basis, reopening was primarily driven at the county level, with some counties permitted to reopen various parts of the economy before others.  The state then experienced a huge surge of cases shortly thereafter, leading to a reimposition of many restrictions, particularly with regard to bars and restaurants and indoor operations across a number of industries.  It created a monitoring list that tracked six key factors regarding reopening, including positive test rates, hospital and ICU capacity, number of available ventilators and personal protective equipment available for hospitals, and cases per 100,000 people.

To allow a continued reopening without an accompanying surge in cases, effective August 31, 2020, California has a new, phased reopening that applies statewide called the Blueprint for a Safer Economy.

Under this blueprint, the state now only focuses on two metrics:

  • Number of cases per 100k people; and
  • Rate of positive test results

Using these two metrics, each county has been placed in one of four color-coded tiers: Widespread (Purple), Substantial (Red), Moderate (Orange), and Minimal (Yellow).  A county must be in its tier for a minimum of 21 days before graduating to the next phase; a new phase brings a loosening of some restrictions based on the industry involved.  This lengthy time in each phase is intended to prevent reopening too soon.  If a state’s metrics fall into different tiers (for example, the rate of positive test results qualifies a county for the “Substantial” tier but the rate of cases per 100,000 people qualifies the county for the “Widespread” tier), the county will remain in the more restrictive tier.

Each county’s current status can be found on this map, and clicking on each county will give you the most recent data for that county.  Additionally, you can search by county in the search bar and it will not only give you the current phase, but also a list of the status of each industry in the state.  It provides for a quick overview of the status of businesses in each county that is much easier to search and review than before.

Industry guidance is still in effect, but it has been modified based on a county’s tier.  For example, industry guidance for “Gyms and fitness centers” is broken down as follows:

Widespread (purple):

  • Outdoor only with modifications
  • Saunas and steam rooms must close

Substantial (red):

  • Indoor with modifications
  • Capacity must be limited to 10%

Moderate (orange)

  • Indoor with modifications
  • Capacity must be limited to 25%
  • Indoor pools can open

Minimal (yellow)

  • Indoor with modifications
  • Capacity must be limited to 50%
  • Indoor pools can open
  • Saunas, spas, and steam rooms can open

Face masks are still mandatory in all businesses and when within six feet of others who do not live in a person’s same home.

Counties are still issuing their own local health orders and may have more stringent reopening guidelines than the state.  As always, employers should consult both state and local reopening orders and guidance, including industry guidance.  It is also recommended that employers work with counsel to best approach reopening.

At this time, some questions still remain.  For example, some industries’ reopening guidance changed significantly with this new blueprint, while others did not.  It is also not clear if further changes to industry guidance will be made.  As with all things COVID, this situation is rapidly changing, so please keep an eye on the state’s Blueprint and work with your counsel to navigate the situation.