Posted by Ardis Bazyn, President of ABWA Verdugo-Glen Chapter
Los Angeles County’s road to COVID-19 recovery has been anything but smooth.
The region’s economy — like the rest of the world’s — ground to a halt last spring, when officials imposed sweeping restrictions after confirming the early embers of what would become a raging pandemic.
Things got moving somewhat a few weeks and a flatter curve later, only for the arrival of a summer surge to once again put the brakes on.
Another round of reopenings was abandoned in the fall, when what would prove to be the worst wave of COVID-19 yet roared to life.
But, despite the fits and starts that have typified the region’s journey over the last 14 months, this time feels different.
L.A. County on Tuesday progressed into the least restrictive, yellow tier of California’s reopening system — clearing the way for the nation’s most populous county to unshackle its economy to the widest extent currently possible.
A swath of businesses and venues, including gyms, movie theaters, amusement parks, stadiums and museums, can operate at higher capacity starting later this week.
Some of the last indoor spaces that had yet to be cleared for reopening, including bars that don’t serve meals, saunas and steam rooms, will be able to do so.
Getting to this point is the culmination of months of progress in driving down the numbers of new COVID-19 infections, hospitalizations and deaths.
And, notably, those numbers have all continued to slide even as the county has gradually progressed through the state’s reopening roadmap — sparking hope that, unlike earlier in the pandemic, L.A. won’t have to pull a U-turn this time.
In a statement, the county Board of Supervisors said reaching the yellow tier “matches the sunny optimism of the season. Now it’s up to all of us to keep up the good work.”
L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti echoed the sentiment, saying the progression “is a tribute to everything Angelenos have done to stay safe, stop the spread, and defeat COVID-19.”
“Our sacrifices have gotten us to a promising point in the life of this pandemic, but we know for a fact that continued momentum for our businesses, workforce, families and communities depends on us remaining vigilant, following public health guidelines, rolling up our sleeves and getting vaccinated as soon as possible,” he said in a written statement Tuesday.
While the state’s tier assignments set the floor of what’s allowed, counties have the power to impose additional restrictions — something L.A. County has periodically done throughout the pandemic.
During a briefing Monday, though, Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said the county would “be aligning fairly significantly with the direction the state is moving.”
“We’re just going to want to make sure that wherever you’re going, you can always keep distance of at least six feet from others, that everyone is always wearing their masks appropriately — with the exception of vaccinated people and a handful of … activities — and that infection control is still apparent everywhere that people are going to be where they’re intermingling,” she said. “So we still have to protect our workers. We still have to protect children.”
Ferrer said the county plans to issue a health order pertaining to the wider reopenings Wednesday that will go into effect Thursday.
What tier a county is placed in hinges on three metrics: its rate of new coronavirus cases, adjusted based on the number of tests performed; the rate at which conducted tests come back positive; and a health-equity metric applied to ensure that the positive test rate in poorer communities is not significantly higher than the county’s overall figure.
Counties must record two consecutive weeks of qualifying data to advance to a less restrictive tier and have to stay in a tier at least three weeks before moving again.
California is aiming to scrap the tier framework and fully reopen its economy on June 15, as long as vaccine supply is stable and hospitalization numbers stay low, though some safety rules will remain in place.
In the meantime, however, reaching the yellow tier requires an adjusted daily new case rate of fewer than 2 per 100,000 people, overall test positivity of less than 2% and a health-equity positivity of below 2.2%.
Even so, at 1.9, the rate was just barely in the qualifying range — with even a slight regression threatening to delay its advancement.
But the county’s adjusted case rate instead fell further, to 1.6, according to state data released Tuesday.
“We’ve done a really decent job holding our own if you look at our case numbers,” Ferrer said. “And people are really invested, I think, at this point in seeing our recovery move forward.”