LOS ANGELES - While Los Angeles County will wait until Thursday to loosen business restrictions in accordance with its move into the least- restrictive yellow tier of the state's economic-reopening blueprint, Pasadena and Long Beach enacted eased guidelines on Wednesday, including the reopening of indoor bars.
Weekly statistics released by the state Tuesday showed the county's rate of daily new COVID-19 infections had fallen to 1.6 per 100,000 residents, down from 1.9 last week. Reaching the yellow tier of the state's Blueprint for a Safer Economy requires a county to have a new-case rate less than 2 per 100,000 residents, and maintain that level for two consecutive weeks.
Los Angeles is the only Southern California county to advance to the yellow tier. The rest of the region will remain in the orange tier.
Although the county officially entered the yellow tier Wednesday, it will not enact eased restrictions until Thursday.
Entering the yellow tier primarily allows higher capacity limits at most businesses. Under state guidelines, fitness centers, cardrooms, wineries, breweries, for instance, can increase indoor attendance to 50% of capacity, up from the current 25%; bars can open indoors at 25%; outdoor venues such as Dodger Stadium can increase capacity to 67%, up from the current 33%; and amusement parks can allow 35%, up from 25%.
Counties are permitted to impose tougher restrictions than the state allows, and Los Angeles County has done so occasionally during the pandemic. But Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said Monday the county plans to largely align with state yellow-tier guidelines.
Long Beach and Pasadena, both of which have their own health departments, quickly revised their local health orders and enacted eased yellow tier restrictions effective 12:01 a.m. Wednesday. Those cities both aligned with state guidelines.
In a statement announcing the move, Pasadena officials urged residents to continue exercising caution.
"Residents are reminded to stay diligent about COVID-19 protocols including wearing a mask in public, frequent hand washing, keeping distance from others, and staying home if you feel sick, even if you have been vaccinated,'' according to the city. "The public is strongly urged to get vaccinated as soon as possible."
Ferrer said the county will release details of its new health order Wednesday before it takes effect Thursday.
Speaking to the Board of Supervisors Tuesday, Ferrer said that despite the easing restrictions, residents will need to continue adhering to basic infection-control measures. She noted that the eased restrictions will "still require safety modifications, including masking, distancing and infection control to keep reducing the risk of transmission."
"These standard public health practices remain essential until we have many more individuals vaccinated," she said.
Supervisor Hilda Solis echoed that sentiment, saying that while the transition to the yellow tier is encouraging, precautions are still essential.
"We still have a lot more work to do," she said.
The full Board of Supervisors issued a joint statement saying, "This new tier matches the sunny optimism of the season. Now it's up to all of us to keep up the good work. It's never been easier to get vaccinated, and that is the single most important action you can take to protect yourself, your family and your community. Continuing to make smart choices now moves us closer to fully enjoying all the wonderful things that Los Angeles County has to offer."
As of April 30, just more than 8 million doses of the vaccine had been administered in Los Angeles County, including roughly 5 million first doses and 3 million second doses. Ferrer said that roughly 37% of the county's eligible is fully vaccinated, meaning they have received both doses of either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine or the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine. She said 65% of residents aged 65 and older are fully vaccinated.
Health officials have previously indicated that the county needs to get to an 80% vaccination rate to reach so called "herd immunity." But Ferrer said Monday she is less focused on that 80% figure as she is about getting accurate information out about the effectiveness of the vaccines and making it easier for people to get them.
The county on Tuesday announced 18 new COVID-19 deaths, following two consecutive days of no deaths. Those two days were attributed to lags in reporting from the weekend. The new deaths increased the countywide death toll since the pandemic began to 23,930.
The county also reported another 273 COVID cases, while Long Beach health officials added 38 and Pasadena two, bringing the overall pandemic total to 1,234,242.
According to state figures, there were 387 people hospitalized due to COVID in the county as of Wednesday, down from 400 on Tuesday, with 93 people in intensive care, down from 97 Tuesday.
Ferrer noted last week that there had been a decline in vaccination rates. She provided figures Monday showing that for the week ending April 23, 611,592 doses were administered in the county. Last week, however, only 467,134 doses were administered, representing a 24% drop.
She said "vaccine hesitancy" cannot be blamed entirely for the drop, although it does play a role. There are also issues with people having easy access to vaccination sites or an ability to get there. Mobile-vaccination efforts have been ramping up in an effort to reach more residents, and most vaccination sites are offering shots without an advance appointment.
"There are some other issues we do need to pay attention to," she said. "People really need to have access to the kind of information they're going to find helpful to be able to make a good decision. I've said all along the job of public health, we're not sitting here ordering people to get vaccinated. We want people to feel very comfortable that the vaccines are safe and they're super-effective.
".... I do think there is a small group of people that really don't want to get vaccinated. At this point, that group of people is unlikely to feel comfortable coming in right now to get vaccinated. And so, for those folks, please take your time. We have some urgency here because the more people that get vaccinated, the less the risks are of both known and unknown variants of concern taking hold here and getting us back a place where more people are dying, more people are in hospitals and we have more cases. But we're not here to force people to go and get vaccinated. We're here to present a lot of information to help you see and understand how powerful these vaccines are, how much of a difference it makes."