The coronavirus
The coronavirus is pictured in this electron microscope image. Courtesy NIH

Los Angeles County health officials say there have been “concerning” upticks in recent weeks, delaying a move to a less-restrictive tier of the state’s economic reopening roadmap.

But despite those concerns and the county’s continued banishment to the most restrictive “purple” tier of the state’s matrix, health officials said more restrictions on business operations will be lifted this week, including:

— removal of the one-day-advance-reservation requirement for customers of wineries and craft breweries;

— removal of the requirement that winery customers purchase food with alcohol; and

— authorization for family entertainment centers to reopen outdoors.

“I hope this provides much-needed relief and respite for residents who are looking for activities outside their homes,” County Supervisor Kathryn Barger said Wednesday. “These updates will also bring more employees back to work.”

The county is also expanding a program that allows schools to resume in-person instruction for high-need and English-learning students. That program currently allows schools to bring such students back to campus, up to 10% of a school’s overall enrollment. That limit is now being increased to 25%, Barger said, “so more students and youth can have access to their teachers and the on-site support systems that are so critical for their growth and for their education.”

Public health director Barbara Ferrer said that as of this week, 986 schools are taking part in that program, with nearly 35,000 students now receiving in-person instruction and nearly 20,000 teachers and staff back on campuses.

Four school campuses this week also were approved for waivers allowing them to resume in-person instruction for students in pre-kindergarten through second grade. Ferrer said a total of 110 schools have applied for those waivers so far, and more applications are being processed by the county and state.

Barger said the changes in the county’s health order will likely be finalized by Friday. The county is still reviewing a recent adjustment by the state allowing all personal-care businesses — such as tattoo parlors and massage therapy operations — to reopen, and it was unclear if those businesses will be included in the Friday revision.

As she has throughout the pandemic, Ferrer noted that more business reopenings means more interaction among residents, potentially leading to more spread of COVID-19. She implored businesses and residents to adhere to all health protocols to limit such transmission.

“We have made a great deal of progress in L.A. County since we experienced the large surge in cases, hospitalizations and deaths in mid-July,” Ferrer said. “But the last couple of weeks we’ve seen some small increases in cases and test positivity rates, which are concerning as we continue to make progress on reopening schools and businesses. With more interactions between people there’s an increased risk of transmission that can result in people becoming seriously ill and, tragically for some, passing away.”

She noted that from August through the start of September, the county was averaging fewer than 800 new cases per day.

“However, since the middle of September, we started to see the daily number of cases creep up, and this is a cause for some worry,” she said. “Last week, the average number of cases was about 1,000 cases per day.”

She also said the county’s seven-day average positivity rate among those tested for the virus had crept slightly upward, ranging between 3.4% and 3.7% over the past month.

“Similar to our case data, this is a slight increase we will need to carefully watch,” Ferrer said.

The county on Wednesday reported 510 new cases, but Ferrer again said the number is artificially low due to continued technical problems with the reporting systems the county uses to compile testing results. Ferrer said the county hopes to have those issues resolved by the end of the week to provide more accurate data on this week’s case numbers.

Long Beach health officials reported 51 new cases Wednesday, while Pasadena added 21. The new cases lifted the cumulative total in the county since the start of the pandemic to 290,558.

The county also announced 33 new coronavirus-related deaths, pushing the overall total to 6,944.

As of Wednesday, there were 758 people hospitalized due to the virus, up from 730 people on Tuesday, 722 on Monday and 752 on Sunday.

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