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COVID Update: Alameda County Officials Announce Reopening Pause, Possible Move Back To Red Tier

OAKLAND (CBS SF) -- While Alameda County remains in the Orange Tier of the state's COVID-19 risk assessment, health officials on Thursday announced a pause to any reopening due to the recent spike in cases that will likely place the county back at the Red Tier.

"Alameda County is currently in the Orange Tier per the state's Blueprint for a Safer Economy, but we anticipate moving into a more restrictive tier soon," the statement announcing the pause said. "For this reason, we will not open additional activities and will likely need to close higher risk activities shortly. Earlier action will help us flatten the curve."

Health officials said Alameda County's daily new COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people as calculated by the state has risen from a low of 3.4 to 4.9.

"We expect to move back into the Red Tier soon and, if current trends continue, Alameda County will move all the way back into the Purple Tier," the announcement read.

One business owner KPIX 5 spoke with lamented the trend towards higher case numbers in the county, but remained pragmatic.

"I think it is unfortunate that we are taking a step back," said Cindy Hagley, a business owner in Pleasanton. "However, I also think we need to do whatever we need to do with ourselves to stop this virus and this whole pandemic."

Alameda County health officials expressed concerns about increased spread of COVID-19 with family gatherings during the upcoming holiday season and more people interacting indoors as temperatures drop and the weather changes

"We must exercise caution and prepare to move quickly to protect our residents and hospitals from rising cases of COVID-19," said Alameda County Health Officer Dr. Nicholas Moss in the release. "We continue to closely monitor the situation. If necessary, we will restrict activities that are higher risk for spreading COVID, including those in which people gather indoors without masks."

Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf retweeted the Alameda County Public Health announcement, encouraging residents to wear their masks.

"A couple weeks ago, you might have said, 'Look what's going on in the Midwest. And here we are in the Bay Area and in California it seems like we are dodging it,'" said Dr. Robert M. Wachter, Chair of the UCSF Department of Medicine. "That was always a fantasy. It was always going to hit us."

Fortunately, the Bay Area is not seeing the kinds of numbers that are now starting to overwhelm hospitals elsewhere in the nation.

"We're not at that number in the Bay, nor really in California," Wachter explained. "They're definitely at that number in many parts of the Midwest."

The Bay Area faced another surge back in June, but it quickly faded away when counties tightened up the rules.

"So I think we're going to go through another test now," Wachter said. "I'm reasonably confident that the Bay Area will turn it around, because we did before, and I think the same reasons will hold. But I'm not supremely confident, because now we are at six months later and people are tired of this. Tired of the schools, tired of not seeing their friends; they want to get together for Thanksgiving."

Wachter said that will be the challenge: staving off a winter surge as virus fatigue rises as well. While vaccine progress may be providing some light at the end of the tunnel, we are also probably about to face the very worst of the pandemic yet.

"Yeah, we're probably at the 50 yard line," Wachter said. "The amount of time between now and the vaccine being generally available is probably about the same amount of time as between now and the start of the thing. So depending on how you feel about that, it's either a long time or not too long."

The pause to reducing COVID-19 restrictions in the county follows moves announced by San Francisco's Mayor London Breed on Tuesday to roll back a number of reopenings, including indoor dining and indoor instruction at high schools not already reopened. Marin County health officials also asked restaurants to reduce their indoor capacity back to 25 percent to curb the spread of the virus.

The same day Breed made that announcement, state health officials confirmed that both Contra Costa and Santa Cruz counties had moved from the Orange Tier to the Red Tier due to rising COVID-19 cases.

Alameda County health officials also reminded residents to follow the holiday COVID-19 guidance jointly issued by all greater Bay Area counties and the city of Berkeley on Wednesday advising residents to keep gatherings short and small to prevent spreading the coronavirus.

While county officials did not roll back any currently reopened businesses or allowed activities, that would likely happen if Alameda County moves back to the Red Tier. Current status of what businesses are open and the capacities they are allowed to operate at is available on the county reopening plan webpage.

Wilson Walker contributed to this story.

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