With COVID-19 transmission slowing, Los Angeles County moved to the brink Tuesday of emerging from the most restrictive tier of the state’s business-reopening guidelines, meaning indoor dining and movie theaters could potentially be cleared to reopen by late March.
Figures released by the state Tuesday put the county’s adjusted average daily rate of new COVID-19 infections at 7.2 per 100,000 residents. If that number falls to 7 per 100,000 residents and stays at that level for two weeks, the county will be able to move out of the restrictive “purple” tier of the state’s “Blueprint for a Safer Economy,” and into the “red” tier.
Moving to the “red” tier would authorize the county to loosen restrictions on businesses — increasing capacity at indoor retailers to 50%, re-starting indoor restaurant dining at 25% of capacity, and reopening movie theaters, also at 25% capacity. Museums and aquariums could be permitted to operate at 25% capacity, and fitness centers could resume indoor activities at 10% of capacity.
The state updates tier assignments for all 58 counties every Tuesday. To advance to a less-restrictive tier of the state’s blueprint, a county must meet all three metrics required by the state for at least two weeks.
To advance to the “red” tier, the county needs a new daily case rate of between 4 and 7 per 100,000 residents, along with an average testing positivity rate of 5% to 8% and a “health equity quartile” — a measurement of a county’s efforts to control the virus in disproportionately impacted communities — of 5.3% to 8%. Los Angeles County’s testing positivity rate is 3.5% and the equity quartile is 5.1%, both good enough to actually qualify the county for the even less-restrictive “orange” tier of the four-level state blueprint. To advance to that tier, the county’s new case rate would have to drop to between 1 and 3.9 per 100,000 residents.
The county has been on the verge of exiting the “purple” tier before, meeting all the required metrics last fall. But the county was unable to maintain the metrics for the required two-week period, as case rates began to rise and eventually devolved to the winter surge. Even if the county does move up to the “red” tier, it would still be up to county health officials to decide whether to actually loosen the business restrictions. Counties are permitted to impose more stringent restrictions than the state.
“L.A. County is very close to meeting the metric thresholds for the less restrictive red tier in the state’s Blueprint for a Safety Economy, which will provide our county with more opportunities to reopen for additional activities,” county Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said in a statement Tuesday. “Since there is still widespread transmission occurring in our county, we are hoping we do not see increases in the number of daily cases in the upcoming weeks that will pause our recovery journey and cause more hospitalizations.
“With an increase in the circulation of variants, we need to ask our residents, workers, and businesses to continue following the safety measures and implement Health Officer Order directives, including wearing a mask and physically distancing from others not in your household to prevent spread,” Ferrer added.
The county’s state-adjusted rate of new cases has been rapidly falling in recent weeks, falling from about 28 per 100,000 residents three weeks ago, then dropping to 20, then to 12.3 last week.
The county on Tuesday reported another 91 COVID-19 deaths, increasing the countywide death toll since the start of the pandemic to 21,554. Another 1,407 cases were announced Tuesday, lifting the overall total from throughout the pandemic to 1,194,242. View the latest detailed report by city and demographics here.
According to state figures — which are typically a day ahead of county numbers — there were 1,476 COVID-19 patients in L.A. County hospitals as of Tuesday, well below the peak of more than 8,000 patients in early January. There were 460 people being treated in intensive care units for COVID.