By Alfredo Santana
NORWALK — After 12 months of mandated shutdowns, Sue Kane was happy to see visitors stroll into the Norwalk Library to use computers, check out books and browse the collections in person as the COVID-19 threats lessened.
Kane, the manager at the Los Angeles County’s Norwalk Library branch, said that although the facility never stopped offering curbside pickup to registered patrons, reopening for on-site services is a sign of better times ahead.
“We are so joyful today to be able to attend people and access what they want,” Kane said May 3. “Most people who came in the first couple hours were familiar faces I haven’t seen in a year.”
The pandemic quarantine ended April 19, when 60 of the 78 L.A. County libraries reopened with limited capacity, offering brief interactions to assist in the search of materials or services, letting people operate Wi-Fi personal computers for one hour and to print documents.
Municipal facilities, such as the Downey City Library, also made a long-expected comeback for live services on May 3, after being closed two years to undergo a structural renovation at a price tag of $8.5 million, and to comply with pandemic closures.
At county libraries, walk-in patrons can resume picking up copies of community newspapers, usually stashed on racks found near the entrances, and visit the reading rooms to peruse subscriptions for free of national and regional publications like the New York Times, the L.A. Times, the Wall Street Journal, USA Today and myriad magazines.
But there is a caveat. All visitors must continue to wear face coverings and maintain six feet of distance from other patrons, or risk being escorted from the premises.
At some libraries, employees and volunteers greet returning customers with digital thermometers scanning their foreheads, and visitors are told to declare whether they have fever, or are experiencing COVID symptoms.
Follow-up questions to tame risks associated with aerosol buildups in enclosed facilities may address whether customers are fully inoculated with the Moderna or Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines, need one more dose of each or took a single Johnson & Johnson shot.
Ramie Johnson, bookstore director with the nonprofit Friends of the Downey City Library, said the sanitary measures are in sync with the county’s public health guidelines to control any virus spread.
The Downey City Library reopened at 25% capacity, and currently halts taking in more than 50 people inside the premises, which include six staff members and two volunteers.
A large TV monitor hooked to a wall displays the number of incoming and outgoing people, a fluctuating figure that increased from around 20 in the mornings to near capacity the first week of reopening.
Johnson noted face masks are required to enter and surfaces are cleaned regularly.
“As far as we know, the library requirements will be to wear masks until mid-June,” Johnson said.
Last month, California Gov. Gavin Newsom vowed to eliminate the tiers scheme that gauge transmissions levels in each county in June, only if the steady drop in cases the state has experienced since February continues its downward trajectory.
Last week, Los Angeles County transitioned from the orange, or moderate tier, to the minimal, or yellow COVID-19 tier, meaning the region has recorded two new cases or less per 100,000 inhabitants for two straight weeks.
Under the current state blueprint for a safer economy, the yellow tier is the less restrictive level to conduct indoor business, allowing county libraries to reopen at 75% capacity.
However, popular library gatherings such as story time, or reading programs that entertain children accompanied by their parents or caretakers, are not expected to come back soon, Kane said.
Likewise, Norwalk set up the use of every other computer for internet use to maintain social distancing.
“We are reopening slowly, but we are making sure our customers wear facemasks all the time, and social distance if they are not with a member of their household,” Kane said.
County libraries also have deployed hand disinfectant units inside the premises and installed sanitizers near t work desks to keep the facilities free from the virus.
The list of area libraries reopening in the county system include the Lynwood, Huntington Park, East Los Angeles, Paramount, Pico Rivera and the Sorensen and South Whittier libraries in Whittier.
County libraries are open Mondays from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., Tuesdays from 1 to 8 p.m., and Wednesdays to Fridays from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.
The Downey City Library opens Mondays through Fridays from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., and Fridays and Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
The city of Whittier, which like Downey operates its own libraries, has reopened its Whittwood branch, but the Central Library remains closed for renovations that were scheduled before the coronavirus began.
Kane expects people from other cities whose libraries are still closed to visit Norwalk’s until a more robust reopening is approved by county supervisors.
For instance, Bell Garden’s Library is still closed, and a slated restart within the next two months is in limbo.
“As always, we have received customers from other cities,” Kane said. “They have always crisscrossed for library services. But we also have libraries opened every five miles.”
Alfredo Santana is a freelance reporter for Wave Newspapers who covers the Southeast Los Angeles County area. He can be reached at email@example.com.