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Governor Newsom Announces New Blueprint for Safer Economy Plan; California Department of Public Health Issues Guidance Regarding Tier Framework for Reducing COVID-19 and Adjusting Permitted Sector Activities What Private Schools Need to Know
On Friday, August 28, 2020, Governor Gavin Newsom announced a new “Blueprint for a Safer Economy” plan, effective August 31, 2020, which imposes color-coded, risk-based criteria on tightening and loosening COVID-19 allowable activities and expands the length of time between changes to assess how movement affects the trajectory of the disease. This Blueprint replaces the previous County Data Monitoring List for determining what activities can and cannot reopen. On August 28, 2020, the California Department of Public Health (“CDPH”) also issued a Plan for Reducing COVID-19 and Adjusting Permitted Sector Activities to Keep Californians Healthy and Safe, which provides information on how to interpret the Blueprint’s color-coded Tier System Framework and the steps required for a county to advance to the next tier. The information provided below applies to both private schools and public schools, unless otherwise noted.
The new Tier Framework lays out the measures that each county must meet to advance to the next tier, based on indicators that capture disease burden, testing, and health equity. It is important to note that a county may have more restrictions than this framework, so each school should check with their local public health agency to determine whether there are any additional restrictions. The Tier Framework provides that each county will fall into one of four colored tiers – Purple (Widespread/Tier 1), Red (Substantial/Tier 2), Orange (Moderate/Tier 3), and Yellow (Minimal/Tier 4) – based on how prevalent COVID-19 is in each county and the extent of community spread. That color will indicate how schools in a specific county may operate. The CDPH offered the following chart as a framework metric, as set according to tiers based on risk of community disease transition:
*To advance to the next tier, a county must also meet health equity measures as described below.
**Case rate will be determined using confirmed (by PCR) cases, and will not include state and federal inmate cases. Case rates include an adjustment factor for counties that are testing above the state average. The incidence is adjusted downwards in a graduated fashion, with a maximum adjustment at twice the State average testing rate.
Moving through the Tiers
The CDPH provides rules for how each county may move through the tiers as follows:
- CDPH will assess indicators weekly, and the first weekly assessment will be released on September 8, 2020.
- A county will remain in a tier for a minimum of 3 weeks before advancing to a later tier.
- A county can only move forward one tier at a time.
- If a county’s case rate and test positivity measure fall into two different tiers, the county will be assigned to a more restrictive tier.
- City local health jurisdiction (LHJ) data will be included in overall metrics, and city LHJs will be assigned the same tier as the surrounding county.
Initial step applied on August 28, 2020:
- Each county is assigned to a tier based on an adjusted case rate and test positivity from the prior two reporting periods. If a county’s case rate and test positivity measure fall into two different tiers, the county will be assigned the more restrictive tier.
- This tier status will be effective August 31, 2020.
- If a county is initially assigned to Purple Tier 1 and has met the criteria for a less restrictive tier the prior week, the county only needs to meet the criteria for a less restrictive tier for one more week to move to the Red Tier 2. The CDPH clarifies that for the September 8, 2020 assignment, a county does not need to remain in the Purple Tier 1 for three weeks. For all subsequent assessments, a county must remain in a tier for three weeks and meet the criteria to advance as described below.
- A county must have been in the current tier for a minimum of three weeks, except as described in the “Initial step applied on August 28, 2020” section above.
- A county must meet criteria for the next tier for both measures for the prior two consecutive weeks in order to progress to the next tier.
- In addition, the state will establish health equity measures on activities such as data collection, testing access, contact tracing, supportive isolation, and outreach that demonstrate a county’s ability to address the most impacted communities within a county. Additional measures addressing health outcomes such as case rates, hospitalizations and deaths, will also be developed and tracked for improvement.
To move back:
- During the weekly assessment, if a county’s adjusted case rate and/or test positivity has been within a more restrictive tier for two consecutive weekly periods, the county must revert to the more restrictive tier.
- At any time, state and county public health officials may work together to determine targeted interventions or county wide modifications necessary to address impacted hospital capacity and drivers of disease transmission, as needed.
- Counties will have three days to implement any sector changes or closures unless extreme circumstances merit immediate action.
The plan also includes an “emergency brake” where the State can intervene more immediately for concerning factors like hospitalizations.
Tier Framework as It Applies to Schools
The new CDPH guidance clarifies that schools may reopen for in-person instruction based on equivalent criteria to the July 17th School Re-opening Framework. The July 17th School Re-opening Framework remains in effect, except that Tier 1 is substituted for the previous County Data Monitoring List (which has equivalent criteria to Tier 1). This means that schools in counties within Tier 1 are not permitted to reopen for in-person instruction, unless they receive a waiver from their local health department for TK-6 grades. Schools that are not authorized to reopen—including TK-6 schools that have not received a waiver—may provide structured, in-person supervision and services to students under the August 25th Guidance for Small Cohorts/Groups of Children and Youth. (LCW recently published special bulletins regarding the State’s guidance for small cohorts/groups of children and youth for public schools and private schools.)
The new CDPH guidance states that schools are eligible to reopen for in-person instruction following California School Sector Specific Guidelines once their county is off Tier 1 (and now in Red – Substantial/Tier 2) for 14 days, which is similar to being off the County Data Monitoring List for at least 14 days. This means that schools can reopen under this guidance as of September 1 if they have been off of the County Data Monitoring List for 14 days as of that date. Potential re-closure should follow the July 17th School Re-opening Framework.
Schools can visit https://covid19.ca.gov/safer-economy/ to find out where their county falls in the Tier Framework. Schools should contact their legal counsel if they are uncertain about whether or not they are allowed to reopen based on this new Tier Framework.