LOS ANGELES (CNS) - Los Angeles County restaurants can again welcome customers indoors, and movie theaters and fitness centers are able to reopen, all at limited capacity, with the county advancing today to the less-restrictive red tier of the state's “Blueprint for a Safer Economy.''
The county officially made the move at 12:01 a.m., but the shift was announced Friday when the state met the threshold of administering 2 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine in low-income communities across California that have been particularly hard hit by the pandemic.
When it met that threshold, the state eased the requirements for counties to advance through the four tiers of the blueprint, which governs business restrictions based on the spread of COVID-19. The new requirements allowed Los Angeles County -- as well as neighboring Orange County -- to move out of the most restrictive purple tier and into the red tier.
Orange County opted to immediate enact red-tier-level guidelines Sunday, while Los Angeles County waited until Monday.
Under Los Angeles County's red tier guidelines, indoor dining can resume at 25% of capacity. The county will require restaurants to have 8 feet of distance between all tables, which will be restricted to a maximum of six people from the same household. The rules also call for ventilation to be increased “to the maximum extent possible.''
Restaurant servers are already required to wear a face mask and a face shield. With the new rules, the Department of Public Health “strongly recommends'' that employees upgrade their face coverings, through the use of higher-grade N95 or KN95 masks, or a combination of double-masking and a face shield.
Health officials also strongly recommend -- but do not require – that all employees be informed about and offered the chance to be vaccinated against COVID-19.
Rules for other businesses that took effect at 12:01 a.m. Monday largely align with state guidance for the red tier:
-- museums, zoos and aquariums can open indoors at 25% of capacity;
-- gyms and fitness centers can open indoors at 10% capacity, with required masking;
-- movie theaters can open at 25% capacity with reserved seating to provide at least six feet of distance between patrons;
-- retail and personal care businesses can increase indoor capacity to 50%;
-- indoor shopping malls can reopen at 50%, with common areas remaining closed, but food courts can open at 25% capacity and in adherence with the other requirements for indoor restaurants.
Moving to the red tier also allows the reopening of theme parks as early as April 1 -- including Disneyland in Orange County and Universal Studios Hollywood in Los Angeles County -- at 15% of capacity, with in-state visitors only. Disney has announced a goal of reopening by late April. Universal Studios has not yet set a targeted opening date.
The red-tier rules also permit resumption of activities at institutes of higher education, and reopening of in-person instruction for students in grades 7-12. Private indoor gatherings are also permitted for people from up to three different households, with masking and physical distancing. People who are vaccinated can gather in small groups indoors without masking or distancing.
“Although we are taking steps to re-open some of the hardest hit sectors of our economy, that in no way means we can drop our guard now,'' county Board of Supervisors Chair Hilda Solise said last week. “We owe it to our neighbors, our local businesses, and our children to remain vigilant so that the re-openings are safe and long-lasting -- wearing masks and physical distancing remain critical.''
The cities of Long Beach and Pasadena, which both have their own health departments separate from the county, also moved into the red tier Monday and enacted new loosened rules -- largely mirroring the county.
Long Beach officials, however, went a step further and aligned with new guidelines the state announced Thursday allowing wineries and breweries that do not serve food to reopen outdoors for alcohol service. The rule requires all customers to have an advance reservation and be seated at tables, all of which will have a 90-minute time limit per customer.
Los Angeles County has not announced any plans to adopt the new guidelines on non-food-serving breweries and wineries. Counties are permitted to impose tougher restrictions than the state.
AMC Theatres announced it will reopen its Century City 15 and Burbank 16 theaters on Monday afternoon, with the balance of its movie houses opening Friday.
“As we have done at more than 525 locations around the country, AMC will reopen with the highest devotion to the health and safety of our guests and associates through our AMC Safe & Clean policies and protocols, which were developed in consultation with Clorox and with current and former faculty at the prestigious Harvard University School of Public Health,'' AMC President/CEO Adam Aron said.
Meanwhile, the county's rate of new cases and hospitalizations continued their general decline on Sunday. The county health department reported 644 new cases of COVID-19 and 28 additional deaths, though officials said Sunday's case numbers and deaths reported may reflect delays in weekend reporting.
The number of county residents in the hospital with the virus dropped from 951 Saturday to 893, with 251 in intensive care.
The county has now logged 1,210,265 cases of COVID-19 and 22,474 fatalities since the pandemic began.
“We have made good progress and have more progress to make. We urge everyone to use caution and good judgment in these next critical weeks and months to avoid surges in cases, hospitalizations, and deaths like we saw at the end of 2020 and the beginning of 2021,'' Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said on Saturday. “Don't let your guard down. Continue following all safety measures. Stay masked, maintain at least a 6-foot distance from others, and keep in mind outdoor activities are far safer than indoor ones.''
In addition to Los Angeles and Orange counties, 11 other counties across the state were also cleared to move into the red tier thanks to the state reaching the vaccination milestone. Barring any reversal in case numbers, 13 more counties will move into the red tier when the state does its weekly update on Tuesday, including San Diego and Riverside counties, meaning the entirety of Southern California will be in red by mid-week.
Gov. Gavin Newsom's new guidelines will adjust the tier system requirements again when the state reaches 4 million vaccinations in hard-hit communities. It was unclear how long that effort will take, but based on the current pace of vaccinations, it will likely take at least a month.
When the 4 million mark is reached, Los Angeles and Orange counties could -- barring a resurgence of cases -- quickly advance to the even less-restrictive orange tier of the economic-reopening blueprint. Such a move would lead to even further loosening of capacity restrictions and a reopening of bars with outdoor service only.
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