Fiscal Report
Public Education's Point of Reference for Making Educated Decisions

New Lens, Same Framework for Schools

Last week, Governor Gavin Newsom’s administration unveiled the “Blueprint for a Safer Economy,” which detailed revised criteria for loosening and tightening restrictions on activities. Effective today, August 31, 2020, the plan’s stated goal is to reduce COVID-19 and adjust permitted-sector activities to keep Californians healthy and safe. Employing lessons learned over the last five months, Governor Newsom outlined his plan, noting that “COVID-19 will be with us for a long time and we need to adapt.” Reopening activities are categorized in a new color-coded system for counties based on coronavirus prevalence and testing rates.

The four-tiered color-coded system is used to identify county risk levels for the spread of infection and include Tier 1 (purple) for widespread, Tier 2 (red) for substantial, Tier 3 (orange) for moderate, and Tier 4 (yellow) for minimal. Each tier determines the extent to which a county’s economy can reopen. As seen in the table below, Tier 1 (purple) widespread classification, the seven-day average of either new cases per 100,000 population must exceed seven, or the testing positivity percentage must exceed 8%. Counties are put into the most restrictive category based on the highest measure.

COVID-19 Higher and Lower Risk Table
Source: Blueprint for a Safer Economy
1To advance to the next tier, a county must also meet health equity measures
2Case 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.

Under the new system, some counties on the monitoring list were moved to a lower tier (red), while others were moved into the highest tier (purple). Now, 38 of 58 counties are ranked in Tier 1 (purple), meaning the vast majority of districts and students must continue with distance learning plans until their status changes. Nine counties are Tier 2 (red) substantial, eight more are Tier 3 (orange) moderate, and three are Tier 4 (yellow). Counties must remain in a tier for at least 3 weeks and can only move one tier at a time. Additionally, counties will not move to a higher tier unless they meet both measures for the tier’s criteria for two consecutive weeks. The status of allowable activities in your county can be found here. The new system provides greater detail of allowable economic activity within counties by infection status, but for schools, the new plan has the effect of extending the duration of mandated distance learning.

The criteria to open under the July 17 School Reopening Framework remains in effect, except that Tier 1 is substituted for the now obsolete County Data Monitoring List. Schools in Tier 1 cannot reopen for in-person instruction; however, the elementary school waiver process remains in place and existing waivers will be honored (see “CDPH Releases Elementary School Opening Waiver Process” in the August 2020 Fiscal Report). Absent a waiver, schools may provide structured, in-person supervision and services to students under the Guidance for Small Cohorts/Groups of Children and Youth (see “CDPH Releases Guidance for Small Cohorts on School Sites” in the August 2020 Fiscal Report). Schools are eligible to reopen for in-person instruction following the California School Sector Specific Guidelines once their county is off Tier 1 for 14 days. For the 38 counties starting in Tier 1 (purple), this means they will not have the ability to resume in-person instruction for at least three weeks, and counties that find themselves moving into in Tier 1 (purple) status in the future will have at least a 5-week wait for the option to return to in-person instruction.