Los Angeles County residents will soon see more of the normality they were used to before the COVID-19 pandemic hit last year.
The L.A. Department of Public Health announced on Tuesday that the county has met the threshold for the orange tier — indicating moderate infection of the coronavirus — of the state’s blueprint for a safer economy. The next-to-lowest tier loosens restrictions on businesses and allows theme parks to open. The new health order will go into effect this coming Monday, April 5.
“After a year of fear, anxiety and tragic loss, we’re seeing glimmers of hope once more,” County Supervisor Hilda Solis said in a virtual update on Tuesday. “But this didn’t happen just by accident. This was because of our collective hard work.”
According to data from the state, the adjusted case rate in L.A. County went down from 3.7 per 100,000 to 3.3 per 100,000 and the seven-day positivity rate dropped to 1.5% and 2.1% in underserved communities. The positivity rates are good enough to qualify for the yellow tier — the least restrictive in the state’s reopening plan — but the county would have to maintain those numbers as well as record less than one new daily case per 100,000 for three consecutive weeks to move into the minimal infection tier.
Unlike Orange County, which also qualified for the orange tier and updated its health order on Wednesday, L.A. County officials elected to wait for the full three weeks before transitioning into a less restrictive tier.
“We need this third week to make sure that we’re not seeing an increase in cases,” said L.A. Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer. “Remember this is still a virus that has a very long incubation period, so this week becomes critical. I am hopeful. I look around and I see lots of people following the rules.”
Bars that do not provide meals will be allowed to open outdoors with restrictions, but breweries, wineries and distilleries that don’t serve food can remain open outdoors and also open indoors at 25% capacity or 100 people, whichever is fewer.
Theme parks can finally re-open at 25% capacity, and outdoor sporting events and live performances are now allowed with 33% capacity.
Restaurants and movie theaters can increase capacity to 50% or 200 people, whichever is less. Museums, zoos and aquariums can also open at 50% capacity and places of worship can hold service indoors at 50% capacity.
Fitness centers can operate indoors at 25% capacity and indoor pools can re-open. Bowling alleys can also open at 25% and salons can increase capacity to 75%.
Ferrer said that a big reason for the decline in numbers is that 3.79 million L.A. County residents received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. In South Pasadena, a total of 9,418 residents 18 and older — which accounts for 43.8% of the population — have received at least one dose as of March 26.
A recent study done by the Centers for Disease Control confirms the vaccines significantly reduced the risk of infection. One dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines were 80% effective in preventing the coronavirus among 4,000 health-care personnel, first responders and front-line workers, and that protection increased to 90% after a second dose. None of the participants in the trials had previously been infected with COVID-19.
“This study showed that the vaccine is highly effective not just preventing hospitalizations and deaths, but it showed that the vaccines are also very effective in preventing infections in real life conditions,” Ferrer said. “The findings in this study are significant and they’re providing mounting evidence that the vaccines can reduce both transmission and save lives.”
Vaccinations and adhering to health guidelines will be critical in preventing California suffering from another surge. Many states have seen a spike in COVID-19 cases the past week and CDC’s most recent data showed that the seven-day average of new cases in the nation has gone up 10%. Hospitalizations and deaths have also gone up.
In a White House briefing on Monday, CDC Director Rochelle Walensky described a feeling of “impending doom” after providing the updated data.
“We have so much to look forward to, so much promise and potential of where we are and so much reason for hope. But right now, I’m scared,” she said.
Ferrer was more optimistic on Tuesday but urged L.A. County residents to get vaccinated and continue practicing social distancing and wearing masks.
“We can’t let our guard down,” Ferrer said. “Another surge in L.A. County would be dangerous and it would stop our recovering progress cold. We would move swiftly to introduce measures to limit transmission and these measures would have us stepping backwards.”
The biggest concern at the moment is spring break, which is typically a time when families go on vacation.
“That is the Achilles heel right now,” Ferrer said. “So many people have been traveling and if those people come back and they fail to do that 10-day self-quarantine, we’re going to be in trouble and we’re going to have more spread [of the virus] than we really ought to have and it could set us back on that recovery journey.”