County moves to next tier in COVID-19 blueprint

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Wave Wire Services

LOS ANGELES — Los Angeles County has officially qualified for an advance to the less-restrictive orange tier of the state’s COVID-19 business-reopening blueprint, but will wait until April 5 before easing economic restrictions, and some rules will be stricter than the state allows.

The move will mean more capacity at retail stores, movie theaters, restaurants and other attractions, along an array of other adjustments, including the reopening — outdoors only — of bars that don’t serve food.

County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said that even though the county officially moved into the orange tier March 31, it will maintain more restrictive red-tier level rules until 12:01 a.m. April 5.

This allows the county to follow the state guidelines and wait until we’ve completed three weeks in the red tier to be sure that our case numbers do not rise this third week since our earlier reopenings,” Ferrer said.

The state’s Blueprint for a Safer Economy normally requires counties to remain in a tier for at least three weeks before advancing to a less-restrictive level, but it inexplicably waived that requirement for both Los Angeles and Orange counties, allowing both to move to the orange tier March 31. Unlike Los Angeles, Orange County plans to implement orange-tier guidelines immediately.

Moving to the orange tier requires a county to have an average daily rate of new COVID infections of 3.9 per 100,000 residents, along with a testing-positivity rate of 4.9% or less, and maintain those levels for two consecutive weeks.

According to weekly figures released by the state, Los Angeles had a new case rate of 3.1 per 100,000 residents, and a testing-positivity rate of 1.5%. Both numbers were down from last week, when the county’s case rate was 3.7 per 100,000 residents, and the testing-positivity rate of 1.8%.

Ferrer said a revised health officer order would be posted April 2 so business owners will be aware of all the new guidelines and have the weekend to adjust their operations accordingly. While the county is largely aligning with state guidelines for the orange tier, it will have some stricter requirements.

Most notably, bars will be limited to outdoor table service only, operating only from 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m., and a required 8-foot distance between outdoor tables. Although state guidelines allow a lifting of all capacity restrictions on retail establishments in the orange tier, Los Angeles County will impose a 75% limit for grocery stores and other retail operations, while “strongly” recommending they remain at 50% capacity until April 15 to allow time for more workers to get vaccinated.

The county also will raise the capacity limit from 25% to 50% for movie theaters, churches, museums, zoos, aquariums and restaurants. Fitness center capacity will be increased from 10% to 25%. Card rooms and family entertainment centers can resume indoor operations at 25% capacity.

The move also allows Dodger Stadium to increase fan capacity to 33%, up from the current 20%, while theme parks can expand capacity to 25%, up from 15%.

Breweries and wineries will be able to offer indoor service at 25% capacity. Breweries, wineries and bars will all be allowed to turn on their television sets outdoors, but live entertainment remains prohibited.

It was unclear if the county will continue to ban restaurants from turning on their television sets — a requirement imposed to prevent gatherings of sports fans.

Despite the move to the orange tier, health officials are continuing to preach vigilance, warning that cases have been rising in other states and countries. They said the continued emergence of COVID-19 variants that can spread more easily from person to person could lead to another surge in cases.

County officials also fear that upcoming spring break activities — along with the Easter and Passover holidays — could prompt gatherings that threaten to quickly spread the virus.

COVID-19 cases are rising in 27 states, and the U.S. seven-day average saw a 10% increase in cases compared to the prior seven-day period,” Ferrer said. “While L.A. County has yet to experience such increases, this week is critical as we are now two weeks out from when we moved into the red tier and reopened several sectors. We’re also in the height of spring vacations and we’re in the height of many of our spring holidays.”

Vaccine eligibility expands April 1 to all residents aged 50 and over, but with vaccine supplies still relatively limited, getting an appointment could prove difficult. Eligibility will expand to everyone aged 16 and up on April 15.

The county this week was set to receive its largest weekly allotment of vaccine to date — 338,100 doses — and tens of thousands more doses will be sent directly to other local vaccination providers, such as pharmacies and health care centers.

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