Los Angeles and Orange counties could be reopening even further in two weeks, with Disneyland and other theme parks in the region allowed to open at 25% capacity instead of 15%, movie theaters going from the current 25% to 50% capacity and restaurants doing likewise for indoor dining.
According to figures released by the state Tuesday, L.A. County’s adjusted daily rate of new Covid-19 cases is 4.1 per 100,000 residents, down from 5.2 per 100,000 last week.
The county on Monday officially entered the Red tier of state’s four-level Blueprint for a Safer Economy, which governs business restrictions during the pandemic. County rankings in the Blueprint are based on the rates of daily new cases and the rate of people testing positive for the virus. Los Angeles County’s seven-day average of positive tests is now at 2%, according to the state.
L.A. county entered the Red tier thanks to a daily case rate averaging less than 10 per 100,000 residents for two weeks. That allowed the resumption of indoor dining and the reopening of movie theaters and indoor fitness centers, all at limited capacity.
Theaters are also now allowed to operate concessions stands, according to L.A. County Health Department guidance: “Patrons must be reminded that eating/drinking is only permitted in a designated dining area or while patrons are seated in their reserved seats in the theater, at a 6-foot distance from those who are not members of their household. Eating or drinking anywhere else while in the establishment or on the grounds of the establishment is prohibited.”
California theme parks will be allowed to reopen on April 1 at 15% capacity for counties in the Red tier, according to a recent announcement by Governor Gavin Newsom. If those counties are in the Orange, then permitted capacity rises to 25%. They have been closed for over a year.
With the test positivity rate now falling to 4.1 per 100,000 residents, L.A. finds itself in striking distance of possibly advancing to the next tier, Orange. To enter that tier, a region must have a daily case rate of 3.9 per 100,000 residents or better for two consecutive weeks.
Reaching the Orange tier would allow the county to lift all capacity limits at retail stores and shopping malls, while raising the allowable capacity at other locations, such as museums, movie theaters, aquariums, churches, fitness centers and restaurants. The orange tier would also authorize a reopening of bars for outdoor service and limited indoor service at wineries and breweries.
Falling case rates are continuing throughout the state, including in San Diego and Riverside counties, which both qualified Tuesday to join Los Angeles and Orange counties in the Red tier. As of Tuesday, only 11 of the state’s 58 counties were still languishing in the most-restrictive purple tier of the economic-reopening blueprint. Over 85% of the state’s population is now in the Red tier.
L.A. County Health Services Director Dr. Christina Ghaly noted Monday that while the hospitalization number is still declining, it’s dropping at a slower pace than it has in recent weeks. She also said the rate of COVID transmission in the county — which is the average number of people a COVID patient infects with the virus — rose slightly in the past week, reaching 0.87, up from 0.79. Although the number is up, it remains lower than 1.0, meaning spread of the virus is being slowed overall. If the number is higher than one, case numbers overall are expected to increase.
Orange County, home to Disneyland and Knott’s Berry Farm, is just on the cusp of meeting the state’s metrics to move up from the Red to the Orange tier. It will be April before that can happen, but Disneyland CEO Bob Chapek said recently that the park plans to reopen in “late April,” meaning it will likely be in the Orange tier when it does so.
The latest Tuesday update from the state shows the O.C.’s test positivity rate improved to 2.2% from 3.2% from last Tuesday, and the adjusted case rate per 100,000 people on a seven-day average with a seven-day lag improved from 6 to 4. The county’s Health Equity Quartile rate, which measures positivity in hotspots in disadvantaged communities, improved from 4.1% last week to 3.5%.
That puts the county just one-tenth of a point away from meeting the threshold for the Orange tier for case rate. If the trend continues the county could move up to the orange tier by April 7, just a few days after Easter.
The county on Tuesday reported 23 cases of COVID-19, upping the cumulative to 248,904, and no fatalities, maintaining a death toll of 4,486.
Hospitalizations decreased from 233 on Monday to 216 on Tuesday with intensive care unit patients declining from 72 to 62.
“Our hospitalization and ICU numbers are down today so that’s good,” Orange County CEO Frank Kim said.
State officials have indicated the county will continue to receive its usual allocation of vaccine doses.
“We need more vaccines. I’m ready to open my next POD” for distributing doses, Kim said.
The county has inoculated about 1 million people, which amounts to a little less than one-third of the county’s population.
Orange County on Sunday went from the Purple tier to the less-restrictive Red tier of the state’s coronavirus regulatory system, allowing for bigger crowds in retail stores and the reopening of museums, movie theaters and indoor dining at restaurants at limited capacity.
Both counties had been preparing to move from the most-restrictive Purple tier to the Red tier this coming Wednesday, but the timetable was moved up Sunday when the state met its goal of inoculating 2 million Californians in underprivileged communities where coronavirus has spread more widely.
The Red tier allows for many more businesses and organizations to reopen. For instance, retail stores can allow for half capacity instead of 25%, and museums, zoos and aquariums can reopen for indoor activities at 25% capacity, as can movie theaters, gyms and restaurants.
Wineries, breweries and distilleries can reopen for outdoor business only.
County officials are concerned about a spring break surge in cases as some residents relax while inoculations churn out.
“We had a meeting the other day where we were concerned about making sure we weren’t going to have a second surge with people maybe feeling a little bit too free from the lifting of restrictions,” Kim said.
Andrew Noymer, a UC Irvine professor of population health and disease prevention, said spring break is somewhat of a concern, but the pace of vaccinations will may help mitigate the impact.
“I’m not crazy about the timing of spring break, but…it’s not automatic it will be a calamity,” Noymer said. “If we get another wave in the U.S. the same way as Germany and Italy then spring break may yet be indicted as an accessory after the fact.”