LOS ANGELES (CNS) - Los Angeles County health officials today are expected to release updated business-operating guidelines that will take effect Monday in accordance with the county's move to the less-restrictive orange tier of the state's COVID-19 reopening blueprint.
The county has already broadly outlined the updated rules, many of which align with the state's guidance. The revised Health Officer Order will be posted Friday so business owners can review the changes and make any needed adjustments before the new rules take effect at 12:01 a.m. Monday.
Los Angeles County officially moved out of the red tier and into the orange tier of the state's Blueprint for a Safer Economy on Wednesday, but the county opted to delay any loosening of business restrictions until Monday. The pause enabled the county to remain under red tier rules for a full three weeks to ensure there was no indication of a rise in COVID-19 infections associated with the eased restrictions implemented in mid-March.
Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said this week the delay will help business owners -- and consumers -- get familiar with the new rules.
“We've learned from both our past and the pasts of others in other locations that a massive reopening without businesses being well-prepared, without the public being well-prepared and without us adding as many layers of protection as we can in modifying what happens at sites that are reopening, we can create situations where there's just too much spread again,'' Ferrer said Wednesday.
“So I wouldn't say we're going really slowly because we're moving along, I think, at a good rate in terms of our reopenings, but we're being careful. And we're taking time to work with our businesses, to work with consumers and customers so they understand how to really enjoy some of the new activities but continue to do so while taking a lot of safety precautions.''
While the county's orange tier health order will largely align with state guidelines, it will have some stricter requirements. Most notably, bars that don't serve food -- which are being permitted to reopen outdoors only -- will only be able to operate from 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m., with a required 8-foot distance between outdoor tables.
Although state guidelines allow a lifting of all capacity restrictions on retail establishments in the orange tier, Los Angeles County will impose a 75% limit for grocery stores and other retail operations, while “strongly'' recommending they remain at 50% capacity until April 15 to allow time for more workers to get vaccinated.
In accordance with state guidelines, the county will raise the capacity limit from 25% to 50% for movie theaters, churches, museums, zoos, aquariums and restaurants. Fitness center capacity will be increased from 10% to 25%. Card rooms and family entertainment centers can resume indoor operations at 25% capacity.
The move will also allow Dodger Stadium to increase fan capacity to 33%, up from the 20% that was mandated in the red tier. Theme parks can expand capacity to 25%, up from 15%.
Breweries and wineries will be able to offer indoor service at 25% capacity. Breweries, wineries and bars will all be allowed to turn on their television sets outdoors, but live entertainment remains prohibited. It was unclear if the county will continue to ban restaurants from turning on their television sets -- a requirement imposed to prevent gatherings of sports fans.
Long Beach, which has its own health department, parted ways with the county and immediately moved to orange-tier rules on Wednesday. The city generally aligned with the state's guidelines, including the elimination of capacity limits at retail stores.
Pasadena, which also has its own health department, plans to follow the county's lead and wait until Monday before changing its restrictions.
The county on Thursday reported another 53 COVID-19 deaths, while Long Beach added two more, lifting the cumulative countywide total to 23,191.
Another 757 cases were also reported, while Long Beach and Pasadena both added five, giving the county a cumulative total from throughout the pandemic of 1,220,256.
According to state figures, there were 634 people hospitalized in the county due to COVID-19, down from 652 on Wednesday. There were 165 people in intensive care as of Thursday, down from 166 Wednesday.
Californians age 50 and older became eligible for COVID-19 vaccinations on Thursday -- adding about 1.4 million Los Angeles County residents to the pool of people trying to get appointments.
Gov. Gavin Newsom, 53, visited Los Angeles on Thursday morning and was administered the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine by Dr. Mark Ghaly, the state's Health and Human Services secretary.
“Today's an important day, obviously, with the opportunity now for people my age that have been waiting -- 18 million shots later,'' Newsom said as he was being administered the vaccine at Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza. “We've administered over 18 million doses. We started this process in December and finally we're here for people that are in my age bracket.
“... It's an opportunity to remind people that they're eligible, everybody in California 50 and over,'' he said. “... It's also an opportunity to highlight the Johnson & Johnson vaccines that are now coming in, despite some of the headlines. They are arriving here nonetheless here in the state and all across the United States.''
According to Ferrer, there are an estimated 2 million people age 50 and up in the county, but health officials estimate about 631,000 of them have already received at least one vaccine dose by qualifying in another eligible category. But that still means another 1.4 million people will be eligible and hunting for appointments.
“So we do ask both those currently eligible and those that will be newly eligible to be patient as supply increases,'' she said.
Getting an appointment will become more difficult April 15, when everyone aged 16 and up becomes eligible for the shots. That group includes an estimated 5 million people, although about 1 million are believed to have already received at least one dose, Ferrer said.
The county last week officially crossed the 4 million mark in total COVID-19 doses administered. According to the Department of Public Health, a total of 4,013,521 doses had been administered in the county as of last Saturday. That includes 1,323,686 second doses, equating to the number of people who are now fully vaccinated.
Despite the growing optimism provided by the vaccination effort, health officials continue to express concern about the spread of COVID-19 variants that are more infectious and have been increasing their presence in California and beyond. And with the opening of more businesses with fewer restrictions due to the county's move next week to the orange tier, officials are stressing the need for continued vigilance and adherence to infection-control measures.
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