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Newsom Pulls 'Emergency Brake,' Rolls Back Most Of California—Including Valley—Into Purple Tier

California's color-coded reopening map as of November 16, 2020.

A rise in COVID-19 cases has prompted another round of business restrictions in most California counties, including those in the San Joaquin Valley.


Governor Gavin Newsom announced today that 29 counties would be rolling back into the purple, most restrictive tier of the state’s Blueprint for a Safer Economy,including Fresno, Kern, Kings, and Merced Counties, which had been in the red tier for weeks.


Madera and Tulare Counties remain in the purple tier, where they have ranked since the governor announced the blueprint system, whereas Mariposa County is one of only two California counties to qualify for the yellow, least restrictive tier.


This newest rollback brings the tally to 41 counties currently in the purple tier, which together account for more than 94 percent of the state’s population.


For those counties not already in the purple tier, the rollback means that as of tomorrow,many sectors including restaurants, gyms, and places of worship will need to close all indoor operations, while others may need to reduce their maximum indoor capacity. Schools that have already opened in person may stay open, but all others will need to remain closed until their county has brought its case numbers down enough to spend at least two weeks in the red tier.


“We are sounding the alarm,” Newsom said during a press call. “California is experiencing the fastest increase in cases we have seen yet, faster than what we experienced at the outset of the pandemic or even this summer. The spread of COVID-19, if left unchecked, could quickly overwhelm our health care system and lead to catastrophic outcomes.”


The governor also mandated that face coverings be worn at all times when outside the home, —even outdoors—except for some situations including working alone in an office or driving, and suggested that a curfew could be imminent.


As of today, 115,540 residents of a 7-county area of the San Joaquin Valley and foothills have tested positive for COVID-19, and 1,529 have died. A total of 454 are currently being cared for in hospitals and intensive care units, representing a 30 percent increase in COVID-related hospitalizations in just one week.


In the last seven days, more than 550 people on average have tested positive for the virus every day, a total not reached in this area since early September.

Kerry Klein is an award-winning reporter whose coverage of public health, air pollution, drinking water access and wildfires in the San Joaquin Valley has been featured on NPR, KQED, Science Friday and Kaiser Health News. Her work has earned numerous regional Edward R. Murrow and Golden Mike Awards and has been recognized by the Association of Health Care Journalists and Society of Environmental Journalists. Her podcast Escape From Mammoth Pool was named a podcast “listeners couldn’t get enough of in 2021” by the radio aggregator NPR One.
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