With coronavirus numbers continuing to be low, Los Angeles County officially qualified Tuesday for an advance to the less-restrictive “orange tier” of the state’s COVID-19 business-reopening blueprint. However, the county will wait until Monday before easing economic restrictions and some rules will be stricter than state guidelines.
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 will officially move into the orange tier on Wednesday, it will maintain more restrictive red-tier level rules until 12:01 a.m. Monday.
“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 on Wednesday. Unlike Los Angeles, Orange County plans to implement orange-tier guidelines on Wednesday.
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 Tuesday, 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%.
With the move to the orange tier, the following will change:
- Bars that don’t serve meals can operate outdoors, with no counter service; tables spaced 8 feet apart with a maximum of six people from up to three different households; no live entertainment allowed but televisions are permitted; drinking/eating allowed only while seated; hours limited to 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m.
- Breweries, wineries and distilleries without food service can open outdoors and indoors at 25% capacity, or up to 100 people, whichever is less, meeting same general rules and operating hours as bars; reservations required for indoor service with a 90-minute limit; no live entertainment but televisions permitted outdoors only.
- Restaurant indoor capacity increases to 50% or 200 people, whichever is less.
- Cardrooms can open indoors at 25% capacity, with no food or drink at tables.
- Places of worship indoor capacity increases to 50%.
- Fitness center indoor capacity increases to 25%, with indoor pools permitted.
- Movie theater capacity increases to 50% or 200 people, whichever is less; with reserved seating and 6 feet of distance between all parties and eating allowed only while seated.
- Family entertainment centers, such as bowling alleys and escape rooms, open at 25% capacity.
- Grocery stores and retail capacity increases to 75%, with strong recommendation to limit capacity to 50% until April 15 to allow time for workers to be vaccinated.
- Hair salons, barbershops, personal care services capacity increases to 75% with masks required except for services that require customers to remove them, in which case employees must wear N95 masks or a combination of masks and a face shield.
- Museums, zoos and aquariums increase capacity to 50%.
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%.
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 will expand Thursday to all residents aged 50 and over, but with vaccine supplies still relatively limited, getting an appointment could prove difficult. The city of Los Angeles’ appointment system through Carbon Health was accepting appointment slots for the 50-and-over group, but the state’s MyTurn website will not offer such appointments until Wednesday, Ferrer said.
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.