Bottom line: County officials are pre-emptively reducing the density allowed for Marin businesses, effective. Nov. 17. That reduction spans multiple sectors but hits restaurants hardest, as they must shut down indoor dining for at least three weeks, as the expectation is that COVID-19 metrics in Marin will get worse before they get better with the holidays on the horizon.

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A mere four days ago, we asked a straightforward question in this space: “Can Marin Avoid Post-Election COVID-19 Regression, Enabling Businesses to Sustain Momentum Into 2021?”

Today, we got a resounding answer from Marin County officials: “Nope.”

Citing a rise in COVID-19 transmission and hospitalizations across the Bay Area, Marin County Public Health Officer Dr. Matt Willis joined with his health officer cohorts to tighten local rules for higher-risk indoor activities where the virus can spread more easily. On Nov. 10, he recommended that Marin restaurants reduce their indoor dining capacity to 25 percent density, down from the 50 percent density approved on Oct. 27 as part of Marin’s move into the less restrictive orange tier within the statewide Blueprint for a Safer Economy COVID-19 framework.

In Marin, case rates have nearly doubled in the past 10 days (see chart above) and continue to rise, prompting Willis to pre-emptively turn his recommendations into an order, effective Nov. 17. The moves effectively places Marin in the more restrictive “red” Tier 2 within the statewide COVID-19 framework. As of Nov. 17, the follow changes are in effect in Mill Valley:

  •  Retail – reduce capacity to 50%
  •  Libraries – reduce capacity to 50%
  •  Places of worship – reduce capacity to 25% or 100 people (whichever is fewer)
  •  Gyms and fitness centers – reduce capacity to 10%
  •  Indoor pools – close
  •  Non-essential offices – closed
  •  Bars and breweries (with no meal option) – closed

In addition, the county will be joining counties across the region to close all indoor dining operations, including:

  •  Indoor dining at restaurants
  •  Indoor movie theater concessions
  •  Indoor food courts

“We’re choosing to move into the red tier before the state moves us to get in front of this surge,” Willis said. “We’re seeing more people getting sick with COVID-19 and needing hospitalization. With flu season and potential impacts from holiday gatherings and travel, it’s time to act to prevent a much larger surge.”

In his report to the Marin County Board of Supervisors on Nov. 10, Willis noted that the recent spike can be traced to white Marin residents participating in indoor gatherings like indoor dining and house parties, where people have longer exposure to one another with less mask usage. Increased mobility – residents traveling within and outside Marin to see family and friends – also drove up case counts, he said.

While the reduction in density across multiple sectors hits businesses broadly, requiring restaurants to shut down indoor dining is the biggest hit. County officials were unable to indicate how long the indoor dining shutdown will last, as the expectation is that Marin’s COVID-19 metrics will get worse before they get better with the holidays on the horizon.

County officials said that if Marin’s metrics rise to the even more restrictive “purple” tier, Marin could potentially move into purple as early as Nov. 24 and remain there for at least three weeks.

“Because consumer confidence has not yet fully supported a return to indoor dining at scale yet, regressing from 50% indoor dining density to 25%, as Dr. Willis recommended on Nov. 10, wasn’t a massive hit,” Mill Valley Chamber Co-Director Paula Reynolds said. “But the removal of indoor dining as an option completely, particularly as the weather gets bad today, is extremely unfortunate. We’d love to hear some additional clarity around what is driving this recent spike and what is being done to address its causes beyond impacting our already beleaguered restaurants.”