As Los Angeles County’s coronavirus numbers continue to fall and local business activity springs back to life, officials announced a handful of modifications to the county’s health order Monday that went into effect over the weekend.
Breweries, distilleries and wineries may now reopen for indoor service if food is provided, with attendance limited to 25% of capacity, County Pubic Health Director Barbara Ferrer said. The county had previously permitted outdoor service with no food provided.
Limited-service businesses, such as dry cleaners, are permitted to conduct indoor operations at 50% of capacity.
And business offices can conduct essential indoor operations at 50% of capacity.
Officials also reported 516 new cases of COVID-19 and nine additional fatalities, though Monday’s relatively low numbers may reflect reporting delays over the weekend.
Monday’s numbers brought the county’s totals to 1,214,178 cases and 22,806 deaths since the pandemic began, according to the county health department.
The number of county residents hospitalized with the virus continued to decline, dropping from 750 Sunday to 713, with the number of those patients in intensive care declining from 191 to 181, according to state figures.
However, officials noted a rise in transmission rate based on hospitalization data, with a rate of .93 at the beginning of March, higher than the .87 recorded one week earlier. “Because the uncertainty in the estimated transmission number R includes values both below and above 1, it is uncertain if the number of hospitalizations will continue to decrease, be stable, or start to increase,” the department said.
Ferrer also said Monday that the county was entering into a Memorandum of Understanding with the state and Blue Shield for the giant health insurance company to oversee COVID-19 vaccination efforts. She stressed that the county’s vaccination providers and overall distribution strategy would remain the same, but would now be coordinated with Blue Shield, allowing for more data dashboards among other improvements.
Ferrer added that public schools in the county would be permitted to align with the state’s updated guidelines that call for 3 feet of distance between student desks, not the 6 feet previously called for. Individual districts can choose to retain the 6-feet standard, though — something that Los Angeles Unified School District Superintendent Austin Beutner has opted for.
Officials stress that the 3-feet guidance applies only to schools, and only to student desks.
“It’s specifically in the classroom,” Dr. Paul Simon, chief science officer for the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, said last week. “So what I don’t want folks to do is say, `Well, gee, three feet is fine virtually anywhere.’ That’s definitely not the case. It was very specific in their guidelines, three feet in the classroom — elementary, middle and high school classrooms — but making sure everybody is wearing face masks all the time and that the classes are cohorting.”
Ferrer said county officials saw a slight decrease last week in transmission of the B.1.1.7 COVID-19 variant first detected in the United Kingdom. She said vaccination efforts are holding at skilled-nursing and assisted-living facilities, and she was confident that even if new variants of the virus began spreading faster, those facilities would not see outbreaks close to the level they saw last spring.
On the vaccination front, officials said doses at county-run sites would be limited to second doses this week due to supply shortages.
The county crossed the milestone of administering 3 million doses last week, and its science officer said planning is under way for an anticipated dramatic increase in vaccine supply in hopes of eventually doling out 1 million doses per week.
The county currently has the capability of administering about 630,000 doses per week, but due to limited supply, only about 300,000 to 350,000 doses are actually being administered per week.
The county moved into the red tier of the state’s four-tier COVID-19 reopening framework last week along with the rest of the Southland, allowing for increased business activity, including the limited reopening of movie theaters. Theme parks can reopen with limited attendance beginning April 1.
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