In response to rising rates of COVID-19 around the region, officials in Marin County are asking restaurants to reduce their capacity voluntarily — before they’re forced to do so by the state.
On its current trajectory, the county would be re-assigned into the more restrictive red tier in two weeks, Dr. Matt Willis, the county’s public health officer, told the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday. Rather than wait, Willis is issuing a county-wide recommendation to cap indoor dining at 25% capacity.
“If the case counts continue to increase, that will shift from a voluntary to a mandatory shift, starting next Tuesday,” Willis said. “That would be 1-2 weeks before, if we maintain our status in the red tier, before the state would impose the same limitation.”
Currently, Marin County is one of six Bay Area jurisdictions in the two least-restrictive reopening tiers, which permits for a wide range of businesses to operate at expanded but not full capacity indoors. However, others in the region have moved more slowly than allowed by the state, while Marin County pushed forward with guidance in line with its orange-tier status.
Despite their statuses in the orange or yellow tiers, San Francisco, Alameda, Contra Costa and Santa Clara counties all have maintained a 25% maximum capacity on restaurants. Until this week, Marin County had allowed restaurants to operate at 50% capacity.
On Tuesday, Contra Costa County became the first in the region to revert back to the red tier. According to Willis, Marin County is expected to receive its first red-tier designation this coming Tuesday, then it has one more week to reverse course before the state restrictions become official. At that point, Marin County would be forced to remain in the red tier for a minimum of three weeks.
Willis said the first mention of a possible step back came last week, when the business community voiced its concerns.
“They wanted time,” Willis said. “The businesses obviously think the unpredictability of this has been a real challenge.”
The county settled on a recommendation for now, but that could change if cases continue to increase, Willis said.
Food service workers have the highest infection rates of any population in Marin County, according to Willis, mirroring a nationwide pattern. Additionally, restaurants are effective conduits for transmission because it’s common for people from separate households to gather, remove facial coverings to eat and drink, and often remain there for an extended period of time.
Restaurants have been the source of “several” super-spreader events in the county, Willis said.