Citing improving conditions in hospitals, state health officials Monday lifted all regional stay-at-home orders, including in the 11-county Southern California region, but counties will still be subject to the tight regulations of the restrictive “purple” tier of economic reopening guidelines.
The impact of the state’s move in Los Angeles County remained uncertain. The removal of the stay-at-home order could technically allow a resumption of outdoor dining at restaurants and reopening of indoor personal-care businesses such as barbershops and nail salons. But counties can impose tougher restrictions than the state, and Los Angeles County — still considered a national epicenter of the recent COVID-19 surge — has done so in the past.
County health officials have scheduled an afternoon news conference to give an update.
The state’s regional stay-at-home order was imposed in Southern California Dec. 6 when intensive-care unit capacity in the 11-county area dropped below 15%. The regional capacity subsequently dropped to an adjusted 0%.
But state officials said Monday that with hospitalization numbers trending downward, four-week projections now indicate ICU capacity will rise above the 15% threshold, even though the current regional capacity is still listed at 0%.
“Californians heard the urgent message to stay home as much as possible and accepted that challenge to slow the surge and save lives,” said Dr. Tomas Aragon, CDPH director and state public health officer. “Together, we changed our activities knowing our short-term sacrifices would lead to longer-term gains. COVID-19 is still here and still deadly, so our work is not over, but it’s important to recognize our collective actions saved lives and we are turning a critical corner.”
A possible resumption of outdoor dining could be the biggest economic boon of the announcement. On Sunday, the California Restaurant Association sent its members a letter announcing the pending state decision, saying, “we thought you’d like to know this good news.”
But it was unclear if the state’s move will automatically reinstate outdoor dining in Los Angeles County, which had prohibited patio service prior to the state’s regional stay-at-home order being imposed. The California Restaurant Association and several eateries sued, prompting a judge to rule the county’s ban was imposed arbitrarily. But that ruling was put on hold by a state appeals court.
The county’s ban, however, technically expired on Dec. 16, but patio dining remained prohibited under the state’s order, which is now lifted.
Attorney Mark Geragos, who sued the county on behalf of his own downtown restaurant and another eatery in Sherman Oaks, wrote on Twitter Monday morning, “There is no prohibition against outdoor dining” in the county now that the state’s order has been lifted.
County Supervisor Kathryn Barger issued a statement saying, “I support following the governor’s recommended guidelines for Southern California, and reopening outdoor dining, personal care services and other industries that were previously closed by these orders. A data-driven and pragmatic policy approach is essential to protecting public health, while balancing the devastating social, emotional and economic impacts of this virus.”
Supervisor Janice Hahn also said she hopes restaurants are allowed to resume outdoor service in the county.
“We should align ourselves with the state as much as possible, which means, among other things, reopening outdoor dining with commonsense health protocols in place as soon as possible,” Hahn said. “The restaurant industry was devastated by this lengthy shutdown and I know this would be welcome news to them.”
As of Monday morning, the county’s website still indicated that all personal-care businesses such as hair salons, nail salons, massage businesses and barbershops remain closed.
Bars remain closed in all counties in the “purple” tier of the state’s four-level economic reopening matrix. The vast majority of counties in the state, including all of Southern California, are in the “purple” tier.
Meanwhile, Los Angeles County officials said appointments are available this week at the county’s five large coronavirus vaccination centers at Magic Mountain, the Pomona Fairplex, Cal State Northridge, the Forum in Inglewood and the County Office of Education in Downey.
Appointments can be booked at vaccinatelacounty.com.
On Sunday, the county reported 8,243 new cases of COVID-19 and 98 additional deaths, bringing the county’s totals to 1,073,111 cases and 15,260 fatalities.
There were 6,697 people with COVID-19 hospitalized in the county as of Sunday, down from 6,881 a day earlier. That number had reached a peak of more than 8,000 earlier this year.
“We are also seeing a decline in hospitalizations and several other indicators we track, including test positivity rate, percentage of emergency department visits associated with COVID-19 and percentage of respiratory specimens positive for COVID at sentinel laboratory surveillance sites,” said Dr. Paul Simon, the Department of Public Health’s chief science officer.
“However, despite these promising trends, I do want to emphasize that the numbers of cases, hospitalizations and deaths remain far too high,” he said. “So while there’s reason to be hopeful, we all must remain vigilant and continue to be disciplined, wearing masks, physically distancing when outside the home, avoiding gatherings and washing our hands frequently.”
Health officials have been urging patience among residents anxious to get a COVID-19 vaccination, with supplies remaining woefully short and the overburdened online reservation system leaving many people frustrated as they try to schedule appointments.
Simon said the county’s five large-capacity vaccination sites — each capable of administering 4,000 shots per day — will be operating at much lower capacity this week, likely in the 2,000 to 2,500 range.
The county expects to receive about 143,900 more doses of vaccine this week. However, since people need to receive two doses of the medication, spaced three to four weeks apart, the bulk of the vaccine coming this week will be used to administer second doses to people who have already received the first shot. Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer estimated earlier that only 37,900 of the new doses will be available for people to receive their first dose.
Simon said Friday that the most recent figures showed that 441,140 doses of vaccine have already been administered in the county, although he said that number is likely much higher due to delays in tallying vaccination totals. As of last week, the county had received about 853,000 total doses.
Simon said if the county’s weekly vaccine allotment doesn’t dramatically improve beyond the current average of about 150,000 doses, “the vaccination effort will likely extend well into 2022,” Simon said.
He said if the county can get its allocation increased to 500,000 per week, “we would have the potential to reach 75% of the adult population in the county, or 6 million adults, by mid-summer.”
He said the state is upgrading its vaccine-appointment website, to which the county system is linked, so it should operate more smoothly this week.
The county also has a call-in reservation system, which is available from 8 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. at 833-540-0473. But that line should be used only by people unable to use the website, since call volumes are already exceedingly high, Simon said.
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