LOS ANGELES (CNS) - Such establishments as gyms, museums, zoos, film studios and spectator-free sports arenas will be allowed to open in Los Angeles County beginning Friday, even as health officials warn again today that the spread of COVID-19 is increasing in the county.
News of the business reopenings came as the county Department of Public Health confirmed 61 new coronavirus deaths, although three of those fatalities were announced Tuesday afternoon by health officials in Long Beach. The new deaths brought the county's overall number of fatalities to 2,768.
The county also announced another 1,275 new COVID-19 cases, while Long Beach and Pasadena combined to add 47 more, giving the county a total of 67,111.
County public health director Barbara Ferrer said deaths from the virus are continuing to trend downward, with the average daily seven-day death rate at 23 as of Tuesday, down from 46 at the beginning of May.
However, the county's case models again showed a slight uptick in the rate of coronavirus transmission -- in other words, the number of people a COVID-19-positive patient infects. That number, once averaging about three in the county, had dropped to below one before health officials began relaxing health orders and authorized more businesses in the county to reopen.
Last week, the county's medical services director, Dr. Christina Ghaly, reported that the transmission rate had risen, and she said again Wednesday that the rate has increased to above one.
Ghaly said modeling predicts “the spread of COVID-19 in the Los Angeles County area is likely to increase gradually over time.'' She stressed that the predictions are based solely on actual hospitalization numbers, not on the increasing numbers of people who are leaving their homes and interacting with the public at newly opened businesses or -- more recently -- massive protests against police brutality.
Ghaly said the county still has adequate capacity in local hospitals to handle an increase in cases, but the county may run out of intensive-care unit beds in the next two to four weeks if the increase isn't reversed.
Despite the warnings, county officials said they are confident enough to move forward with a new health order that will be formally enacted Thursday, but will take effect Friday. The order will allow a new array of business sectors to reopen, including:
-- gyms and fitness centers;
-- professional sports venues without live audiences;
-- day camps;
-- museums and galleries;
-- zoos and aquariums;
-- campgrounds and RV parks;
-- outdoor recreation such as swimming pools;
-- music, film and television production; and
-- hotels for leisure travel.
“As with all businesses that are permitted to reopen, the health officer order contains protocols for reopening to ensure that it's done as safely as possible for employees, customers and residents,'' Ferrer said.
Those protocols will include mandatory face coverings and physical distancing wherever possible.
Ferrer stressed that the reopening of more business sectors should not be seen as an indication the county is out of the woods in terms of the coronavirus pandemic, noting, “We're still in the middle of the woods and we have a lot of risk.''
She said it will remain important for residents to adhere to the health restrictions when visiting any reopened business, and for the businesses themselves to enforce them.
Health officials have continued to emphasize the need for residents to take precautions when they venture outside of their homes and associate with other people. Ghaly said the key to controlling the virus is not necessarily remaining home at all times, although “we should to the greatest extent possible,'' but taking steps to ensure safety while visiting businesses, going to work or attending protests.
“The key is making sure that the participation in these activities happens carefully and safely,'' she said.
Photos: Getty Images