Tulare Co. moves into red tier, Kings Co. remains in purple, state health officials say

VISALIA, Calif. (KFSN) -- Two Valley counties were expected to shift into a less restrictive tier in the state's COVID-19 reopening plan on Tuesday.

But only one made the jump.

Tulare County met the metrics to move from the purple, or widespread risk tier, to the red, or substantial risk tier.

Kings County remains in purple, despite the state's indication last week it could move to red as well.

All other Valley counties are still in purple except Mariposa, which is in the orange, or moderate risk category.

In Tulare County, businesses are getting ready to enter the red tier, including Maximo's Taqueria.

The restaurant finally opened its doors in Downtown Visalia during the winter surge of COVID-19 cases.

"We were a little behind, finally got the approval, opened the doors, and nobody was around, really," General Manager Alex Guerrero said.

Maximo's, which has another restaurant in Porterville, decided to respect state rules by not allowing indoor dining.

Three months later, the chairs are still flipped on the tables, and the restaurant is sticking to to-go orders and outdoor dining.

But starting Wednesday, Tulare County restaurants can bring customers back inside at 25% capacity or 100 people, whichever is fewer.

It comes after the county officially advanced to the less restrictive red tier of the state's reopening plan on Tuesday.

"Well we're really excited, you know, to move into that next tier where we're allowed to have people come in and eat," Guerrero said. "We still are a little on the cautious side as far as keeping everybody safe and social distance and everything."

This is the first time Tulare County has moved out of the most restrictive purple tier.

County supervisor Amy Shuklian is happy for the various businesses, from retail stores to gyms to museums that will be allowed to bring more customers back indoors.

"I'm pleased," Shuklian said. "I'm cautiously optimistic. I don't want people to get complacent. We still have a lot of folks out there who need to get vaccinated and we're doing a great job of doing that."

Yoga studios in purple tier counties can't operate inside, so COVID-19 has been hard on Holly Jones, owner of Valley Yoga in Visalia.

"Every month is a struggle and it's been a real test of faith," Jones said. "Am I going to make it this month? Then a miracle happens and I'm able to keep going."

Jones adapted to pandemic restrictions by offering virtual classes.

Now, she's looking forward to bringing a limited number of students back to the studio.

"We'll follow the guidelines, bring a few people back and we'll just have a slow reopening and keep our online classes going," Jones said. "But I'm super grateful."

Churches can now operate inside at 25%, and so can movie theaters.

Retail stores and shopping malls can be open inside at 50% percent capacity.

And middle and high schools can now offer in-person instruction again.

The California Department of Public Health explained Kings County's purple tier status in an e-mail to Action News.

Kings County earned a week (last week) of better metrics due to the Health Equity (HE) acceleration criteria. A county may earn a week of improving metrics if they are in the purple tier with declining or stable case rates and HE TP and countywide Test Positivity (TP) less than 5%. A county must have two consecutive weeks of improving metrics and it could be either through regular progression criteria, health equity acceleration, or a combination of each. Kings County did not earn a second week of improving metrics when looking at both criteria, and therefore did not move to the Red Tier.
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