LOS ANGELES - On Wednesday, Los Angeles County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer says she will be holding briefings with restaurant operators and employee unions to review "additional safety measures" that will be required ahead of restaurants reopening for outdoor dining following a lifting of regional stay-at-home orders.
Ferrer did not provide specifics on those requirements, but the county previously restricted eateries to 50% of outdoor capacity, and mandated that servers wear both masks and face shields.
She also said Los Angeles County will have its inspectors out in force, prepared to issue citations to reopening businesses that aren't following restrictions, such as capacity limits and face-covering requirements.
"We just don't have any leeway here to make a lot of mistakes," Ferrer said. "We have to really stay very focused on doing this right as we're doing the reopenings."
The biggest area of concern will likely be at restaurants, which will be permitted to resume in person outdoor dining. Although Long Beach and Pasadena -- which have their own health departments -- have already cleared patio dining to resume, Los Angeles County will not authorize it until Friday.
Ferrer's actions came Tuesday, on the one-year anniversary of the county's first coronavirus case -- as barbershops and nail salons in the county began reopening under "purple tier" conditions.
Still, officials warned that the reopenings are not a sign the COVID-19 crisis is over. The virus remains rampant, they said.
"This would not be the time for people to think that because we're reopening, things are looking rosy here in L.A. County," Ferrer told the county Board of Supervisors.
"We still have a lot of people in our hospitals. We still have a lot of people passing infections from themselves to others. Many of them are asymptomatic. And unfortunately, we'll see a lot more people die over the next few weeks. So we're going to have to ask everyone to really stay with this program."
Gov. Gavin Newsom announced Monday that all regional stay-at-home orders were being lifted. The decision moved Los Angeles and other Southern California counties back to the ``purple'' tier of the state's economic-reopening matrix. Under that tier -- the most restrictive -- personal care businesses such as barbershops and hair salons were permitted to reopen indoor operations at 25% capacity.
Churches are still restricted to outdoor services only, while outdoor card rooms and outdoor recreation centers such as mini-golf courses and batting cages can resume at 50% of capacity. Fitness centers will still be restricted to outdoor operations only. The move also again permits outdoor gatherings of people from up to three different households, with such get-togethers restricted to 15 people.
The county still requires non-essential retail businesses to be closed between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m., but that restriction may be lifted Friday when the new health order is released.
County Supervisor Janice Hahn on Tuesday echoed Ferrer's warning about adhering to health restrictions as businesses reopen.
"I hope people don't go crazy this weekend by doing everything possible -- nails, hair, eating out," Hahn said. "I think we should (reopen) carefully, which is to keep reminding people that it is still a scary time to be in the public because of this virus."
Supervisor Kathryn Barger added, "Harm reduction still is and should be first and foremost on everyone's mind. We're not out of the woods. We cannot let our guard down."
The state's regional stay-at-home order was imposed in Southern California on Dec. 6 when intensive-care unit capacity in the 11-county area dropped below 15%. The regional capacity subsequently dropped to an adjusted 0%.
State officials lifted the order Monday, noting that hospitalization numbers are trending downward, and four-week projections now indicate ICU capacity will rise above the 15% threshold, even though the current regional capacity is still listed at 0%. In fact, the state estimates the Southern California ICU capacity will reach 33.3% by Feb. 21.
Ferrer reiterated that the county's COVID-19 numbers have been improving dramatically throughout January, saying the average number of new cases has dropped from about 15,000 per day to about 7,000 per day. She said hospitalizations have dropped from 8,000 per day about 6,000 per day.
The only metric that has remained elevated is deaths, with the county last week averaging 213 fatalities from COVID-19 per day. Ferrer noted that the deaths are always a lagging statistic that follows rising case and hospitalization numbers, so fatalities are likely to remain high through the rest of the month thanks to the December surge in cases.
"We're still going to see high numbers of deaths for a couple of weeks to come, but I'm hoping that once we get into the month of February our death rates will also come down significantly," she said.
The county reported 291 COVID-19 deaths Tuesday, while Long Beach health officials added 22 more, lifting the countywide total from throughout the pandemic to 15,614.
The county announced 5,927 new COVID-19 cases, while Long Beach added 356 and Pasadena 88, pushing the overall pandemic total to 1,085,488.
According to state figures, there were 6,213 people hospitalized in the county due to COVID-19 as of Tuesday, including 1,551 people in intensive care. The county has roughly 2,500 licensed ICU beds. The county Department of Health Services on Tuesday reported 762 available hospital beds at the 70 "911- receiving" hospitals with emergency departments, including 90 ICU beds.
In the week that ended Saturday, an average of 82% of ICU patients in the county were being treated for COVID-19, along with 49% of people in non-ICU beds.
Meanwhile, COVID-19 vaccination efforts were continuing at a slower pace than desired, thanks to a limited supply of vaccine doses. Ferrer said all vaccination appointments for the rest of this week were already full at the county-operated vaccine sites.
Appointments can be booked at vaccinatelacounty.com, which is now linked with a new state MyTurn website that allows residents to register for notifications about when they will be available to receive a shot.
Ferrer said that as of Jan. 12, the county had received 685,075 doses of the vaccines, and had administered 525,747 of them. As of the end of last week, the county had received a total of 853,650 doses.
The county expects to receive another 143,900 more doses this week -- but the vast majority of those will be reserved to provide second doses to people who had already received the first dose of the two-dose regimen.