San Mateo County loosens restrictions as COVID-19 conditions improve


Caltrain station in Belmont / Constantine Kulikovsky / / CC BY-SA 2.0

Downtown Belmont may begin to see more activity as restrictions ease up.

On Sept. 23, San Mateo County made important progress against COVID-19: the county’s risk level decreased from widespread to substantial.

“Great news for San Mateo County, we’ve moved into the red,” the City of San Mateo said in a tweet.

On a statewide level, California has implemented a color-coded risk level system that ranks counties in terms of COVID-19 risk from widespread to minimal. Associated with this system are regulations about what businesses are allowed to reopen and what limitations under which they must operate.

Though San Mateo has a ways to go before a full reopening is possible, examining what steps lie ahead is an essential part of navigating life during this time.

County Risk Level by Anita Beroza

Currently, San Mateo’s risk level is in the red “substantial” category. The positivity rate is at 4.5%, and the unadjusted number of new cases per 100,000 is 6.8. This means a variety of new businesses are allowed to operate more freely.

“Indoor restaurants, gyms, movie theaters and places of worship may now open with restrictions in San Mateo County,” the City of San Mateo said in an announcement on Sept. 22. Business isn’t the only important sector influenced by this tier change, however.

“Schools can reopen for in-person instruction once their county has been in the Substantial (red) tier for at least two weeks,” the California Health department said.

While heading back to school in two weeks is technically a legal possibility, Carlmont will not be heading back this semester. A few days before this announcement came out, the SUHSD school board decided to stay in distance learning for the rest of 2020.

Should the conditions continue to improve, San Mateo County could be classified as only having moderate risk in as few as three weeks. When a county has a moderate risk level, many businesses have an increased maximum percentage of their capacity allowed in. 

One such example is that of gyms: under substantial risk, gyms are allowed 10% of their usual capacity, but under moderate risk, they are allowed 25%. Others, so long as they maintain distancing protocol, are allowed full capacity under moderate risk. Counties can, however, always impose stricter legislation than the state laws provide.

The next step of reopening would be when San Mateo County is classified as having minimal risk. This would allow almost all businesses to operate at full capacity, with only minor modifications to enforce distancing and similar regulations. For example, shopping malls would be allowed to reopen, so long as their food courts operate at reduced capacity.

To ensure San Mateo can reopen as quickly and safely as possible, follow all health directives from the county and state. Face coverings and social distancing are still required.