San Mateo County moves to less restrictive Orange tier 3

by Contributed Content on October 27, 2020

Interior courtyard of new Hillview School in Menlo Park

The state of California today announced the easing of certain restrictions on businesses, indoor and outdoor gatherings and other activities in San Mateo County. The changes take effect at 12:01 on Wednesday, October 28.

With the risk from coronavirus now officially declared “moderate,” the county moves into the less-restrictive orange Tier 3 in the state’s four-tier, color-coded plan for reducing COVID-19 with criteria for loosening and tightening restrictions on activities.

The move allows indoor family entertainment centers, bars and breweries not serving food, indoor climbing walls and certain other businesses and activities to open with capacity restrictions. Dine-in restaurants, movie theaters, places of worship and additional businesses can boost their indoor capacities as well.

To move forward, San Mateo County met key pandemic measures: rates of new COVID-19 cases continued to fall, as did the rates of tests returning positive overall and in disadvantaged areas.

The county met the orange Tier 3 status with a test positivity rate of 1.6 percent per 100,000 population, an adjusted case rate of 3.0 percent per 100,000 population and a health equity test positivity rate of 3.7 percent per 100,000 population.

“This is a total team effort, and by team I mean everyone who lives and works and loves San Mateo County,” said County Manager Mike Callagy. “Every time you wear your face covering, wash your hands, practice social distancing and take other common-sense precautions, you contribute to the team effort to reopening our economy and returning our lives to as normal as possible.”

Businesses, museums, child care facilities and other operations that reopen must follow state health guidelines specific to that industry and adhere to local health orders mandating face coverings and other health and safety practices.

Local health officials credit in part the increased number of people who voluntarily got tested for COVID-19 for the good news. The County recently announced the ability to test up to 7,500 individuals each week – including children ages 5 and over at no-cost to participants. The County’s capacity supplements the testing provided by the private health care sector.

Widespread testing plays a key role in the state’s criteria for loosening or tightening restrictions on certain activities and the economy. The County’s stated goals are to exceed the state median for testing, ensure equitable access to testing and invest in strategic community testing. To get tested for COVID-19, call your health care provider or visit

Local health officials also cautioned that the recent drop in the rate of COVID-19 cases is no cause to let one’s guard down.

“We ask everyone to continue to work to limit the exposure of themselves and their families to COVID-19,” said San Mateo County Health Officer Dr. Scott Morrow. “We are moving quickly towards Halloween and the holiday season. We can’t stress enough: wear your face covering, wash your hands, avoid close-contact with anyone not in your household. We have too much riding on our progress to go backwards now. Our comeback depends on all of us.”

The County started September in the most restrictive purple Tier 1. Then on September 22, the state moved San Mateo County to the red Tier 2.

With the move to orange Tier 3, the following is now allowed:

Shopping malls: Can open indoors with modifications

  • Closed common areas
  • Reduced capacity food courts

Places of worship: Can open indoors with modifications

  • Open at 50% capacity or 200 people, whichever is fewer

Dine-in restaurants: Can open indoors with modifications

  • Capacity must be limited to 50% or 200 people, whichever is fewer

Offices (non-essential businesses): Can open indoors with modifications

  • Encourage working remotely

Bars/Breweries (where no meal provided): Can open outdoors only with modifications

Movie theaters: Can open indoors with modifications

  • Capacity must be limited to 50% or 200 people, whichever is less

Gyms & fitness centers, including indoor pools: Can open indoors with modifications

  • Capacity must be limited to 25%
  • Indoor pools can open
  • Indoor hot tubs, saunas and steam rooms must close

Family entertainment centers

  • Can open indoors for naturally distanced activities, with modifications
    • Capacity must be limited to 25%
    • Bowling alleys and escape rooms allowed
  • Can open outdoors with modifications for activities like kart racing, mini golf, batting cages

Hotels, lodging and short-term lodging rentals

  • Open with modifications
  • Fitness centers can open to 25% capacity
  • Indoor pools can open
  • Indoor hot tubs, saunas, and steam rooms must close

Museums: Can open indoors with modifications

  • Indoor activities limited to 50% capacity


  • Schools may reopen fully for in-person instruction. Local school officials will decide whether and when that will occur

Youth sports
Follow this guidance for youth sports programs, including school-based, club, and recreational programs. Review the guidance and prepare a plan to support a safe environment for players, coaches and trainers, families, spectators, event/program/facility managers, workers, and volunteers.

For further information by industry sector, visit the state’s Industry Guidance website.

Travel, Halloween, Día de los Muertos

The move to orange Tier 3 does not change guidance from state and local health officials regarding travel and holiday gatherings.

From the California Department of Public Health: You can travel for urgent matters or if such travel is essential to your permitted work. Even though businesses around the state are opening up, avoid travelling long distances for vacations or pleasure as much as possible.

Guidance for Safer Halloween & Día de los Muertos Celebrations
Many traditional holiday activities promote congregating and mixing of households, which increase the risk of transmitting COVID-19. For this reason, San Mateo County Health recommends that you choose a safer alternative way to celebrate Halloween and Día de los Muertos and strongly discourages trick-or-treating. Learn more.

InMenlo file photo of Hillview School courtyard (c) 2012

One Comment

K.C. October 28, 2020 at 11:24 am

So let me get this straight – we’re now in a level that allows movie theaters, indoor dining, gyms, indoor pools, bowling alleys, escape rooms, and in-person/indoors school – all with modifications, but does not allow kids to run around an outdoor field in a team game situation. Even with its own set of strict safety modifications? In many cases, this is the only physical activity and peer-group interaction these kids can get in the current 24/7 screen-based isolation they have been put in. This disregard for the mental and physical health of the more than 150,000 K12 kids (20% of the population) in this county is baffling. It’s time for County (and State) leadership to get as creative as they have on accommodations for cinemas, hair salons, and escape rooms, draft a solution for getting our youth safely back on the field in games, and quit kicking the can down the road. Our County’s kids have been doing their part alongside us adults to bring our Covid numbers down. Let’s show the same level of respect for their sacrifice.

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