While Council supports Purple Tier for Paso Robles, State and County retain public health oversight

PASO ROBLES — The Paso Robles City Council held a special meeting on Thursday, Dec. 10, in light of the State’s recent decision to issue a stay-at-home order for San Luis Obispo County. 

After extensive public input and discussion, the Council voted to continue the City’s current approach for assisting individuals and businesses throughout the community cope with the challenges imposed by the pandemic. On a 5-0 vote, it agreed to:

• continue with the existing stated course of empathy and education, working with the Paso Robles Chamber of Commerce to assist local businesses in understanding and meeting requirements;

• allow the County public health officer to designate what is an egregious or flagrant violation of those requirements;

• authorize the Mayor to work with the other cities in the County to request that the governor remove SLO County from the Southern California Region; and

• indicate its support for returning the County to the purple, or most restrictive tier.

The Council noted that State and the SLO County Public Health Officer are responsible for establishing public health guidelines to which businesses and individuals in the City are subject. Dr. Penny Borenstein is the San Luis Obispo County Health Officer.

The Council also recognizes that ending the stay-at-home order and placing the City in the purple or red tiers is not a decision the Council can make; currently, only the State can do so. 

The City wants all businesses and individuals in the City to fully recognize that you can be putting your business or yourself at risk if you defy the state’s stay-at-home orders. The full requirements of the stay-at-home order are available on the State’s website. 

The State and the County still retain enforcement authority to use at their discretion. And, as the Council noted, Dr. Borenstein and the County will determine what they consider an egregious violation, one that can lead to more serious enforcement actions.

The Council also agreed to re-examine the situation at any point warranted and may take this issue up again as early as Tuesday, Dec. 15.

Information on State Guidelines

Under the Governor’s tiered system of guidelines and restrictions, SLO County had recently been placed in the purple tier, the most restrictive of the four tiers. 

The Paso Robles community invested much effort and resources to enable continued operation in the Purple Tier, hoping to return to the Red Tier and the eventual availability of effective vaccines.

In the Purple Tier, restaurants and wineries, for example, can serve outdoors. Personal care service businesses can open with modifications. In the Purple Tier, bars must remain closed, gyms and movie theaters can operate only outdoors, and retail capacity is limited to 25%. 

Under the stay-at-home order, many of these types of business activities are more severely restricted or not allowed at all. Full guidelines are on the State’s web site. Placement in any of the four tiers is based on a series of metrics and standards, including adjusted case rate and positivity rate.

Because of the recent ongoing increase in cases statewide, ICU beds in hospitals throughout the state are filling up. To address this, the State announced last week that it would implement a stay-at-home order on a region-by-region basis, based on a single measure: the percentage of each region’s available ICU beds. 

Any region with fewer than 15% of its ICU beds available would be subject to the stay-at-home order. This stay-at-home order was designed to override the County-by-County tier system, at least temporarily.

For the stay-at-home order purposes, the State divided California into five regions and placed SLO County in the Southern California Region. The California Department of Public Health and Gov. Gavin Newsom issued a stay-at-home order for the region Sunday night, Dec. 6, when ICU bed availability fell below 15% for the region.

As of Dec. 10, SLO County had 40% of its ICU beds available. However, the Southern California Region overall had only 7% of its ICU beds available.

On Thursday night, the City Council stated unanimously its disagreement with the State’s decision to include SLO County in the Southern California region. It noted that the State had not provided any rationale for doing so. The Mayor and Councilmembers agreed to submit a letter in collaboration with the County’s other six cities, supporting the request by the Health Officers and the Boards of Supervisors for Ventura, Santa Barbara, and SLO counties, to create a new region of just the three counties. 

If the governor agrees to do so, SLO County will be back in the Purple Tier. The Council indicated its strong commitment to maintaining Paso in the Purple Tier and wishes to move the County to the Red Tier as soon as the numbers support that change.