Alameda County advanced out of the purple tier and into the red tier in the state's COVID-19 blueprint on Tuesday -- indicating some improving local metrics related to coronavirus cases -- but county health officials said no new reopenings will occur yet.
The state's color-coded "Blueprint for a Safer Economy" sets criteria for business reopenings by assessing all counties' COVID-19 risk level on four tiers based on daily new cases and positivity rate. A county in the red tier, the second most serious level, is considered in the "Substantial" category that does allow some non-essential business operations to be open, but the Alameda County Public Health Department appears to be exercising discretion granted by the state to implement more stringent closures locally -- for now.
"While movement to the red tier allows for additional sectors to open with restrictions, local health officers can proceed more cautiously than the state allows," ACPHD officials said in a statement.
"We are using the next two weeks (through Oct. 6) to ensure our metrics remain stable and we will release a phased plan that balances increased risk of spread of COVID-19 from newly permitted activities alongside appropriate mitigation strategies that can be implemented. At this time, there is no change to permitted or prohibited activities in Alameda County," they added.
The state's red tier also allows for the return of more in-person classroom instruction in that county (after two straight weeks in the red tier), but ACPHD said Tuesday that "schools must continue distance learning until local conditions support in-person learning."
The county's elementary school waiver process remains active and is processing applications, and ACPHD officials urge all school districts to "prioritize preparing for reopening and engaging parents and staff in the planning so they can be ready."
"Bringing students back for in-person learning is a top priority for the next phase of reopening," ACPHD added.
Pleasanton Unified School District told the Weekly, "For schools operations, the state's guidance has been that we need to remain in the red tier for 14 consecutive days before implementing any in-person learning."
The district added the requirements "are also subject to additional requirements from the county" and that officials expect to know more soon.
In a statement Tuesday, Alameda County Superintendent L. Karen Monroe said the status change "will undoubtedly raise questions and pose challenges for families, school employees and community members."
"While moving into the red tier is a positive development, the reopening of schools continues to require significant planning and preparation efforts for our schools and districts," Monroe said.
Each of the county's 18 school districts and its regional occupational programs, county-run schools and authorized charter programs are responsible for developing and implementing their own reopening plan, as required by state and local health officials.
When schools reopen, they will be subject to guidance and direction from both the state and ACPHD, and required to develop and post a publicly available "comprehensive reopening plan."
Other reopening plans include staff testing for COVID, training district staff in protocols related to contact tracing in the event of positive COVID cases, and ensuring adequate staffing of essential workers.
"Schools must open only when the required measures have been appropriately considered and implemented," officials said. "We encourage districts to communicate with their communities about the challenging realities of this process, and to continue to prepare for the eventuality of bringing students back to classrooms."
County school officials also acknowledged how the pandemic "has exacerbated the structural inequities and achievement gaps that cause many students and families to struggle in distance learning," and that students with the highest need "are best served by in-person learning, as soon as it is possible."
The Alameda County Office of Education's "COVID-19 School Guidance for Reopening" and other resources for school reopening can be found at www.acoe.org.