The bigger question: when and how can businesses begin to reopen?

Gov. Gavin Newsom brings forward a new tier system for California, which can be accessed by the public at Valley News/Courtesy photo

Effective as of Aug. 31, California now has colored tiers which depict which county is more apt to be widespread in transmitting COVID-19 among its population than others.

Tier 1 (widespread; purple) defines the “widespread” areas of COVID-19 transmission and has impacted most of Southern California as of data released Aug. 29. San Diego County moved itself out of Tier 1 and into Tier 2 Aug. 31, with Orange County following suit, Sept. 8.

Tier 2 (substantial; red) is somewhat better than Tier 1, but the tier is still high up on the ranking for easily transmitting COVID-19 to populations.

With Tier 3 (moderate; orange), the counties have a considerably lower amount of plausibility for passing on COVID-19 as quickly as some of the higher risk areas.

Tier 4 (minimal; yellow) includes two counties as of Aug. 29 data, with the lowest, “minimal” area of COVID-19 impact.

The tier framework as outlined by Gov. Gavin Newsom also depicts when and how businesses can reopen safely and within guidelines.

Riverside County: Tier 1

Most nonessential indoor businesses remain closed. Concert venues, bars/breweries where no meal is provided, convention centers, festivals, live theater and other businesses that have large gatherings remain closed.

Progress has been made, however, as salons were allowed to resume business indoors with modifications as of Monday, Aug. 31. Another addition to the new framework was that indoor retail can only operate at a maximum of 25% capacity.

Museums, zoos and aquariums also can operate, but outdoors only. Places of worship must remain outdoors, along with movie theaters, gyms, restaurants and wineries.

Riverside County schools TK-6 can apply for a waiver to have in-person instruction, permitting the waiver is granted and all state guidelines are followed, including the California Department of Public Health state educational framework.

The waiver can be revoked, and though schools may apply for the waiver, it’s not guaranteed they will receive a green light. The application is submitted to the Riverside County University Health System – Public Health.

San Diego County: Tier 2

Where Riverside County, being a Tier 1 county, has most indoor businesses closed, San Diego County is now allowing aquariums, museums and zoos to open indoor with indoor activities at a maximum of 25% capacity, while bars, distilleries, concert venues, convention centers or large crowd gathering activities remain closed.

Gyms in San Diego County are allowed to open with indoor modifications at a maximum of 10% capacity.

For higher education institutions, indoor lectures and student gatherings are limited to 25% or 100, whichever is less – while some courses, like labs, may be able to open at regular capacity.

It’s important to note that counties can restrict further, and residents should check in with their local health department’s website for more localized restrictions. For a full list of what can be open and the current guidelines depending on the county, visit

How does a county move to a new tier?

According to the guidelines, a county must meet the criteria for the next tier for both measures for the previous two consecutive weeks to move to the next tier. A county’s tier is determined by case rate and test positivity.

It’s also important to note that counties can regress back into a previous tier if numbers increase for a consecutive amount of time.

For businesses that can reopen, there is a list of items outlined by that must be followed including the industry guidance, a detailed risk assessment and a worksite-specific protection plan.

From that point, businesses and facilities will train employees on how to limit the spread of COVID-19, including setting up screening and sanitation protocols, with face coverings and physical distancing measures in place.

For a more in-depth look at guidance to follow per business, employer policies and resources, visit or to see CDPH’s Blueprint Activity and Business Tiers at

Lexington Howe can be reached by email at