Los Angeles County could officially qualify for the least-restrictive yellow tier in the state’s COVID-19 reopening blueprint when updated numbers are released Tuesday.
Reaching the yellow level requires a county to have an average daily rate of new COVID cases less than two per 100,000 residents — and maintain that rate for two weeks.
Last week, L.A. County’s rate fell to 1.9 per 100,000 residents. If the rate remains below two when new state-adjusted figures are released Tuesday, the county will officially advance to the yellow tier on Wednesday, although the relaxed restrictions that come with the move will not take effect until Thursday, Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said.
Meanwhile, the county on Monday announced zero COVID-19 deaths for the second day in a row — although the numbers are likely due to weekend reporting lag.
COVID-19 case and death numbers are traditionally low on Sundays and Mondays as a result of delays in reporting from the weekend, but the back-to-back days of zero deaths still offered a glimmer of hope about a waning of the pandemic’s deadly toll.
“We’re hopeful that deaths will continue to remain very low in the weeks ahead,” Ferrer said.
She said that while reporting lags are likely responsible for the lack of any deaths being reported Sunday and Monday, the numbers of daily fatalities have been declining. Additionally, she said, the county is currently averaging four or five deaths per day, when those fatalities are traced back to the dates on which they actually occurred.
With no deaths reported Monday, the county’s COVID-19 death toll from throughout the pandemic remained at 23,914.
The county reported 255 new COVID cases on Monday, lifting the overall number to 1,233,985.
According to state figures, there were 386 people hospitalized due to COVID as of Monday, down from 390 on Sunday, with 96 people in intensive care, an increase from 87 on Sunday.
Against the backdrop of those numbers, Ferrer said she is confident the county will qualify for the yellow tier this week, but the county won’t know for sure until state figures are released around midday Tuesday.
Entering the yellow tier will primarily allow higher capacity limits at most businesses. Fitness centers, cardrooms, wineries and breweries, for instance, would be permitted to increase indoor attendance to 50% of capacity, up from the current 25%; bars would be able to open indoors at 25%; outdoor venues such as Dodger Stadium could increase capacity to 67%, up from the current 33%; and amusement parks could allow 35%, up from 25%.
However, the overall positive COVID trends in the county were still offset by a disturbing drop-off in people being vaccinated.
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.”
Ferrer said roughly 37% of the county’s population is now considered fully vaccinated. Health officials have said the county needs to get to an 80% vaccination rate to reach so-called “herd immunity.”
Ferrer said 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.
“I’m not as much worried about what’s the number for herd immunity, and do we get there and what that concept really needs to mean, as I am about we’ve got a powerful vaccine, we’re hopeful that more and more people will continue to come and get vaccinated and (we) want to make that as easy as possible,” she said.