While the rest of the Bay Area reopens, 1 county is left behind

ByAlix Martichoux and Wayne Freedman KGO logo
Thursday, October 22, 2020
While the Bay Area reopens, 1 county is left behind
Sonoma County is stuck in the purple tier as the rest of the Bay Area moves forward with reopening. What's going wrong?

SANTA ROSA, Calif. (KGO) -- As most of the Bay Area continues to move through the phases of California's color-coded reopening plan, one county has been left behind. Sonoma County is the last county in the Bay Area to be left in the "purple" tier, the most restrictive when it comes to what's allowed to reopen.

The purple tier is reserved for counties with widespread coronavirus transmission, with more than seven daily new cases per 100,000 residents or a testing positivity rate that's higher than 8%. While Sonoma County's test positivity rate has been around 5% for several weeks, it's the number of daily new cases that has them in trouble. Last week's data shows Sonoma County had 11.9 new COVID-19 cases per 100,000 residents.

MAP: CA counties that can, can't reopen under new rules

"Our numbers were going in the right way and then we had a confluence of chaos," said Sonoma County Supervisor James Gore.

Gore says the wildfires, which prompted tens of thousands of evacuations, forced people out of their homes and into shared evacuation spaces.

Use the interactive graph below to see how the data is trending in Sonoma County and other counties around California.

Having trouble viewing the graph? For a better experience, click here to view the full graph in a new window.

The county's large agricultural industry could also be a reason behind the continued coronavirus spread.

"All of the agricultural parts of the state still have high rates," UCSF Dr. George Rutherford told the San Francisco Chronicle. "Sonoma is just like a lot of other big agricultural communities. There are lots of cases in the Latinx community, lots of cases in farmworkers."

INTERACTIVE: Here's the reopening status of every Bay Area county

To try and mitigate the spread of the virus, the county is increasing free testing, especially in high risk neighborhoods. At some sites, they're even offering gift cards as an incentive to get tested.

If you test positive, the county will pay you to stay home.

"If you get COVID, we want you to be able to not go to work and not have to drop out into homeless," said Gore. "There's only one track to reopening and we got to lower our case rates right now."

In the meantime, the county is stuck in the purple tier, which means many businesses aren't allowed to reopen indoor operations. Schools also aren't allowed to reopen until the county is out of the purple tier for at least two weeks.

That's a source of particular frustration for many Sonoma County parents.

"The kids deserve to be in school," said Kayla Morphis, a Santa Rosa resident who works an overnight shift and has three kids at home. "They need to be in school because it's messing with their mental health.

"It's not OK. My daughter's not OK and I'm not OK."