Napa, Lake get OK for greater reopening from coronavirus rules than other Wine Country counties

This might be the only time Napa and Lake county businesses may celebrate being “in the red.”

Residents and business operators woke up Monday morning, a week before the Labor Day holiday that signals the end of summer, to a new four-color system that eases restrictions and allows for more merchant re-openings depending on the metrics’ positivity rate and new cases.

A sign of baby steps to come, the Wine Country jurisdictions join San Francisco County in the second most restrictive category, under the “substantial” red color level within the four-tiered system California is calling the Blueprint for a Safer Economy. The system was established as a way of safely bringing back business sectors that were closed down in July after reopening a month earlier under an earlier state rubric.

Like an air-quality rating, the purple level is considered most restrictive, red second; orange third and yellow fourth. The levels are gauged by daily cases per 100,000 people in the population in a week’s period.

The greater San Francisco Bay Area and most counties beyond remain in the purple. Napa County’s positive test rate was 4.2% as of Monday, which places it in a more favorable rating than 38 counties. Napa had 6.5 cases per 100,000.

“The state is interested in the economy rebounding,” Napa County Supervisor Diane Dillon said on the local government’s Facebook Live presentation about the new system. “There are still no gatherings including weddings. They’re not in our best interest.”

Bars, breweries and wineries that don’t serve food are still closed to indoor service. Personal care services such as massage therapy as well as hair and nail salons may reopen with pandemic safety protocols.

Like Napa, Lake is the only other county in the North Bay region not in the purple “widespread” tier for COVID-19 prevalence. Lake has a positivity rate of 3.6%, and cases per 100,000 were 3.3.

In red-level counties, able to reopen inside at half-capacity are shopping centers — but not food courts — and general retail, while movie theaters, restaurants and worship venues can welcome back guests at quarter-capacity or 100 people total, whichever is greater. Purple-level counties like Sonoma, Solano, Marin and Mendocino are limited to quarter-capacity for shopping centers and general retail but no indoor services at restaurants or theaters.

Getting to orange is no easy task, much less yellow, based on the metrics qualification. Currently, Napa County is reopening to this limited capacity with 34 cases in the last three days.

“To go to orange doesn’t really look possible by Sept. 21. We could be in the red through the first week of October,” Dillon said. “We need to have a continued focus.”

In red-level counties, gyms must keep their indoor patrons to 10% occupancy. Healthquest fitness center owner Tony Giovannoni wished it was a higher threshold.

“I know we’ll have more than that number of people who will want to come back,” he said of his 3,500-person membership. About a third are deemed active members, having placed their membership on a free “hold” during the coronavirus crisis when businesses initially shut down in mid March.

Giovannoni used the time and the opportunity to spruce up the gym with a makeover. Outdoor operations are tiring: Every day, he hauls heavy nautilus equipment outside. He plans to continue to do so, along with hosting classes outside the building.

“None of it makes a lot of sense. I look around and see all these people walking around downtown,” he said. “I don’t know if this is a positive thing, as I know expenses will go up with getting the building up and operating.”

He called his approach “laffitude.”

The strategy involves a planning for what the winter has in store.

Every little inch forward represents an advancement in the right direction to Napa Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Travis Stanley.

“I have faith in our community to do what we can. We’re fortunate to be in the red tier,” Stanley said, adding that he understands the weariness of business owners in his region.

Sonoma County business leaders sympathize as well. Being classified among California counties under the most severe restrictions, Sonoma County’s positivity rate of 6.5% keeps its further reopening at bay.

“Each business is having to go to online (operation),” said Janeen Murray of Sonoma County Go Local, a business advocacy group. “I’m more heartened by how creative these businesses are being. We’re all trying to be supportive. These are our neighbors.”

In Marin County, San Rafael Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Joanne Webster commended the newest state system for reopening as a step in the right direction.

“We don’t want to reopen then close back up again,” Webster said. “One concern we have for restaurants is when we have stormy weather, how do we get indoor dining? The uncertainty has been unnerving.”

The chamber serves on the Marin Recovers project, meeting weekly with other chamber executives and county representatives to hash out future plans. Marin County’s positivity rate was 3.0% Monday, and cases per 100,000 were 5.9.

“If our data stays where it is, we anticipate moving to ”red“ next week,” Marin County spokeswoman Laine Hendricks said.

To stakeholders, 2020 could be a wash for business.

“This has been a wake-up call that we’re not going to get out of this for this year,” North Bay Leadership Council President Cynthia Murray said, adding she’s encouraged by the “cautious” approach the state and counties are taking. “It’s like a dimmer switch.”

With 70 active cases, Mendocino County’s positivity rate places the jurisdiction in the “purple” category, despite coming in at 4.2% for testing. The county reported 10.5 new cases per 100,000 for the 88,400-resident county, yet its positive-test rate at 4.2% is in the red level.

Interactive Editor Jeff Quackenbush contributed to this report.

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