The morning after his less-than-stellar State of the State speech, Gov. Gavin Newsom delivered some good news to about 15 million Californians. Newsom said the state on Friday will meet its threshold of administering 2 million Covid-19 vaccine doses in low-income, hard-hit communities, triggering a change in the state’s Blueprint for a Safer Economy that will advance Los Angeles, Orange and San Bernardino counties into the “red” tier of that matrix and clear a path for more businesses to reopen. As long as local health officials agree, businesses in those counties will be allowed to open under the less restrictive red tier limits on Saturday. L.A. has been in the most restrictive tier of the governor’s Blueprint since August.
Los Angeles County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said earlier this week that it will take 48 hours after the state announces the vaccination threshold is met for the county to officially move into the red tier. If the goal is met by Friday, as Newsom announced, the county would advance by Sunday.
On Tuesday, however, two members of the L.A. County Board of Supervisors said they support fully aligning with state guidelines ASAP. More on that below.
Moving from the restrictive “purple” tier into the red tier will authorize the county to increase capacity limits at retail establishments and reopen theme parks, indoor dining, fitness centers and movie theaters.
State officials had recently announced theme parks would be allowed to reopen on April 1 at 15% of capacity, with in-state visitors only. That timeline is now moved up by about two weeks. Disney CEO Bob Chapek announced on Tuesday that Disneyland would reopen in “late April.”
Movie theaters will be allowed to reopen at 25% capacity or 100 people, whichever is less.
Outdoor live events like sports and concerts are allowed to reopen at 20% capacity. That includes suites at 25% occupancy per suite and no more than three households gathered in each suite.
“Southern California, you will be a beneficiary of this,” Newsom said during a visit to a mobile vaccination clinic in South Gate.
“Specifically, L.A. will be a big beneficiary of this new metric that likely will be met on Friday. And moving through the weekend and into next week, you will see more activity, more loosening of the tiers,” predicted the governor. That’s encouraging and I hope people will be enthusiastic about what this means moving forward, because we have a series of other thresholds and other goals that will allow us to move forward with more clarity, more conviction and more confidence as we move through the next few weeks and
the next few months.”
Under the soon-to-be-outdated tier system, L.A. qualified this week for the first of two consecutive weeks required to move into the red tier. But the California Department of Public Health revealed recently that once the state has administered 2 million vaccine doses in disadvantaged neighborhoods, it will make moving from the purple to red tier much easier. Instead of less than seven daily cases per 100,000 residents, counties only have to move below 10 cases per 100,000.
L.A. has met the 10 cases per 100,000 metric for weeks, and so will be able to reopen immediately once the vaccination threshold is met. (The change in requirements is retroactive, meaning counties het credit if they have recently had a case rate between seven and 10 per 100,000 residents.)
It looks like, according to the adjusted case rates for the past two weeks, another six northern counties will join the three in Southern California in the red tier this weekend. They are: Colusa, Contra Costa, Mendocino, Mono, Placer, Tuolumne.
On Tuesday, the state had recorded over 1.92 million vaccinations to members of disadvantaged communities — interestingly, that’s just about the number of signatures on the petition to recall Newsom. There was some thought Newsom might actually make the announcement during his State of the State address, but he did not.
The state Covid-19 tracker on Wednesday noted some numbers had lagged due to latency issues, but Monday and Tuesday it was estimated California applied 20,000 and 30,000 shots in arms. Given those daily rates, it’s easy to see how the state could hit 2 million by Friday.
On Tuesday two members of L.A. County’s powerful Board of Supervisors said they support fully aligning with state guidelines.
“I feel pretty strongly that I think we should align ourselves with the state’s red tier reopening guidelines,” Supervisor Janice Hahn said. “I think to be different than that right now would cause confusion and probably a lot of anger, because there are so many venues out there, entities, that have really suffered and are waiting to get a few more of these restrictions lifted.
“Especially if we’re talking about Disneyland reopening at limited capacity, opening day at Dodger Stadium there’ll be in-person fans,” she said.
“But I really hope that we can stay in alignment so that there is not confusion from one county to the other.”
Supervisor Kathryn Barger agreed with Hahn, saying L.A. County should align its public health order with the state and neighboring counties.
“I believe that clarity and consistency leads to the highest rates of compliance,” Barger said, adding that she wanted to avoid local residents traveling to other counties with lesser restrictions.
Barger also urged Ferrer to get guidance out quickly so businesses can plan ahead to prepare for changing rules.
Ferrer warned the board that while case numbers and the testing- positivity rate have declined precipitously in recent weeks, things could easily worsen if residents become lax about infection-control measures.
“This is the month I would say — the month of March, the early part of April — where we have to be extraordinarily cautious,” she said. “Because we’ve been here before. We’ve been here with reopenings. We’ve been here with travel around Thanksgiving and Christmas. We’ve seen what happens around holidays if we’re not really careful. … We’ve got to keep everybody alive right now so they can get vaccinated and stay alive. So this would be a time for extreme caution.”
She pointed specifically to the spread of variants of virus that causes Covid-19, which can spread more easily from person to person. Ferrer said the variant first identified in the United Kingdom has been increasing its reach in Los Angeles County, and is now believed to be responsible for 10% of all COVID cases in the county. The so-called West Coast variants are even more prevalent, according to state data.
City News Service contributed to this report.