SONOMA COUNTY (KPIX 5) – Sonoma County officials acknowledge they are the last Bay Area county in the Purple Tier, at the bottom rung of California’s color-coded reopening system, and say they are determined to work their way forward.

“Yeah, we’re a little frustrated about the situation,” said Marco Esparza of Maya Restaurant in Sonoma which is still serving customers at outdoor tables because of the purple restrictions. “I mean, all our county neighbors are already having the green light, but not us.”

Outdoor dining in Sonoma County, which remained in the most-restrictive Purple Tier under the state's reopening plan, October 28, 2020. (CBS)

Outdoor dining in Sonoma County, which remained in the most-restrictive Purple Tier under the state’s reopening plan, October 28, 2020. (CBS)

Sonoma County has been stuck in the purple tier since the state began the color-coded system in August.

“There’s a lot of things that set us apart from our neighboring counties, definitely from the Bay Area counties,” said Sonoma County Health Officer Dr. Sundari Mase, who emphasized the fact that much of the county is agricultural and much more like Monterey County than San Francisco.

Officials said farm workers, most of them Latino, are very vulnerable because they work and live close to many other people. And they are less likely to get tested because they are reluctant to lose a paycheck.

“Living in crowded conditions large households and a lot of transmission within those households is a big factor in our case numbers,” Mase said.

The county announced a plan earlier this month that would increase pop-up testing in Latino communities.

Also, the county plan would pay a stipend of $1,216 to help replace the pay for folks who would be missing work from isolating, and is also in the process of securing dozens more hotels, Mase said.

“Right now our alternate care site is in Healdsburg, and it is far away for people who may want to isolate or quarantine away from family, if they are living in Santa Rosa, Petaluma or other places. So we’re trying to contract up to 35 different hotels in different areas of the county.”

Advocates in the Latino community told KPIX 5 it has taken a while, but in recent weeks Sonoma County has begun a very serious and comprehensive campaign to try to mitigate the virus in that community.

“In the community, I think we all are just like ‘Why, why has it taken this long?’” Said Javi Cabrera-Rosales of the organization called On the Move, which has joined forces with other nonprofits to form the “Cura Project.”

The organizations have become liaisons between the county and the Latino community, letting people know in their own language about the importance of masking and distancing and that county help is available.

“This really calls upon our systems to find some real change in how we’re actually responding to our communities of all races, ethnicities, cultures, and making sure that there’s not only equity but liberation,” Cabrera-Rosales said.

Sonoma County will find out in another two weeks whether these efforts are paying off enough to move out of the purple and further into reopening.

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