With coronavirus cases slowing down, San Luis Obispo County dropped into a lower level of shutdown, allowing more businesses to reopen, under strict restrictions to try and stop the spread.

“SLO County,” the Health Department said in a news release, “is slowing the spread of COVID-19. As a result, more businesses can reopen indoor operations with modifications and capacity limits. SLO County is now in the ‘Red tier.’”

SLO County had been placed in the worst, “Purple” tier of Gov. Gavin Newsome’s color-coded chart designating the levels of infection and reopening with various scenarios and business types. 

Essentially SLO County has gone from “widespread” to “substantial,” infection rates.

“While we celebrate this small success,” County Health Officer Dr. Penny Borenstein said, “we must stay vigilant. Our progress depends on each person in SLO County. We need everyone to do their part to slow the spread of COVID-19 in our community.” 

The State’s so-called “Blueprint for a Safer Economy” allows counties in the red tier to reopen indoor operations for some additional business types and allows for certain activities to resume. 

Businesses must still follow all State guidelines for their industries “and self-certify that they are ready to reopen.”

The effected businesses include:

• Personal care services, like nail salons, tattoo studios, and massage therapy, will be permitted to reopen indoors at 25% capacity;

• Restaurants will be permitted to move from outdoor-only to limited seating indoors at 25% capacity or 100 people, “whichever is fewer;”

• Places of worship will be permitted to move from outdoor-only to limited indoors at 25% capacity or 100 people, whichever is fewer;

• Movie theaters will be permitted to reopen at 25% capacity or 100 people, whichever is fewer;

• Gyms and fitness centers will be permitted to move from outdoor-only to limited operations indoors at 10% capacity; and,

• Schools can reopen for in-person instruction “once the county has been in the red tier for at least two weeks.”

Dr. Borenstein reasserted that outdoors is still best. “Outdoor operations remain the safest environment to slow the spread of COVID-19 and should be supported whenever feasible,” she said. “If we see an increase in the spread of COVID-19 here, we will move back to purple and most indoor operations will close again very soon.” 

House Parties Spread COVID

Recent virus exposure tracing has identified cases, “spread between different households at gatherings,” according to the County. “The nature of these gatherings [bringing together people from multiple households for a prolonged time, often indoors or with shared food and beverages] creates the perfect environment for COVID-19 to spread easily and quickly.”

Everyone is being advised to stay away from such gatherings and to continue with the same precautions they’ve been urging for months. “All residents should take protective actions to limit the spread of COVID-19 in SLO County — wear a face covering in public, stay at least 6-feet from others outside of your household; stay home when you are sick; wash your hands often; and get tested for COVID-19.”

Playgrounds to Reopen

On Sept. 29, the State Health Department issued COVID-19 guidelines for reopening playgrounds and other outdoor recreational facilities.

But the strict guidelines might be difficult to enforce on a playground full of children that have been cooped up at home for seven months.

“Visitors to outdoor community playgrounds must wear face masks [required for everyone age 2 or older],” the County said, “may not eat or drink at the playground; stay 6-feet apart from adults and children from other households; wash or sanitize hands prior to and after visiting; consider visiting at different times or days to avoid wait times and crowds; and limit the visit to 30 minutes per day when others are present, among other health guidelines.”

Fifth Jail Inmate has COVID

Another County Jail inmate tested positive for COVID-19 on Sept. 26, according to a news release from the Sheriff’s Department, becoming the fifth guest so far to test positive in the hoosegow.

Sheriff’s spokesman Tony Cipolla said the inmate was asymptomatic but still tested positive.

“The inmate had recently been arrested five days prior,” Cipolla said, “and as a result had been in a quarantine unit per the health protocols of the County Jail. There was no exposure to other inmates. Also, there was no exposure to Jail staff since they are required to wear Personal Protective Equipment.”

The Jail is now up to five cases among the inmates and this was the first case they’ve detected since July 22, Cipolla said. 

There have been no new cases among deputies. Since last March, three correctional deputies and three patrol deputies have tested positive for COVID-19. All have recovered at home.

“The County Jail continues to be vigilant with screening, testing, and isolating sick individuals to protect staff, inmates, and the public,” Cipolla said.

Testing Returns to Estero Bay

 The County reopened a free, by-appointment-only, COVID-19 testing site in Morro Bay this week.

The Morro Bay site will again be at the Vet’s Hall, 209 Surf St., and open Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m., on an ongoing basis. 

A new site was also opened in Paso Robles at the Paso Robles Event Center, home of the Mid State Fair, in the Frontier Pavilion. It will be open Mondays, Thursdays and Saturdays from 7 to 5, by appointment only.

The County also has testing sites at the South County Regional Center in Arroyo Grande, open Mondays-Fridays 7 to 7; and the SLO Vet’s Hall on Grand Avenue at Monterey Street, open Mondays-Fridays, 7-5. 

The testing is free to those without health insurance. If you have insurance they will ask for your account information, so they can bill the insurance, and there will be no co-pays.

Testing is Key to Reopening

According to the County, the more testing they do the more evidence they have to show the State the true nature of virus infections here. 

“High testing numbers help improve our adjusted case rate to meet the State’s metrics for reopening more local businesses,” Dr. Borenstein said. “Getting tested can help our community. If you have symptoms or think you may have been exposed to COVID-19, make an appointment to get tested. COVID-19 tests at these sites are fast, safe, easy and free.” 

In a related tidbit, the City of Morro Bay, which is aping the County’s guidance, is also asking residents to help enforce the mask mandate.

“If you are in distress addressing a client or customer that is irate about masking requirements, MBPD encourages you to please call 9-1-1,” reads a news release from the City.

The County has contracted with OptumServe to handle the testing appointments. Make an appointment online at: www.EmergencySLO.org/testing. 

For updates on COVID-19 in SLO County, see: ReadySLO.org or call the Public Health Information Line at (805) 788-2903. A staffed phone assistance center at (805) 543-2444 is available Monday through Friday, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. to answer COVID-19 questions. 

To check on what State guidelines your business must adhere to, see: readyslo.org.