L.A. County poised to reopen indoor dining, movie theaters, gyms, more sectors as early as Monday

Angelenos could soon have the option to dine indoors, watch a movie in theaters, or workout in a gym, according to Los Angeles County public health guidance released Thursday.

Previously, it was unclear whether Los Angeles County would align itself with California’s guidelines or opt to keep more stringent restrictions in place as the county anticipates moving into the less-restrictive red tier of the state’s reopening blueprint.

As soon as the state has administered 2 million doses to residents in its most underserved communities, which is likely to happen by Friday, the state will ease its rules on when a county can go from the most restrictive purple tier to the red tier.

On Monday, county health officials said that once the region can advance into the less restrictive red tier, the reopenings could take effect within 48 hours. But Thursday’s announcement says “the red tier rules will go into effect red tier that allows for additional re-openings between Monday, March 15 at 12:01am and Wednesday, March 17.”

That means if the state meets its goal Friday, the new L.A. County public health officer order that would allow the reopenings of indoor dining, movie theaters and gyms, among other changes, could go into effect as early as Monday morning. 

“We plan to move into the red tier very soon, and that allows for more re-openings and permitted activities in L.A. County,” L.A. County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said in a news release Thursday. “This milestone is the result of businesses and individuals working together and doing their part to prevent COVID-19 from spreading.”

The new health officer order will mark the first major reopening of sectors in the region since the start of the pandemic, bringing much needed relief to industries affected by the closures.

Once the new rules take effect, restaurants in L.A. County can reopen indoor dining at 25% maximum capacity.

Diners will be required to sit at least eight feet apart from other tables, and indoors, up to six people from the same household will be allowed per table. Restaurants can allow up to six people per table from three different households to dine together if they’re outside.

Restaurants with indoor dining will also be required to have an HVAC system “in good working order” and ventilation has to be increased “to the maximum extent possible ventilation.”

Public health officials strongly recommend that “all restaurant employees interacting with customers indoors are provided with additional masking protection (above the currently required face shield over face masks).”

“In addition, Public Health strongly recommends that all employees working indoors are informed about and offered opportunities to be vaccinated,” the public health department said in a statement Thursday.

Also under the new rules, private gatherings will be allowed indoors for up to three separate households, with masking and distancing required at all times. In addition, people who are fully vaccinated will be allowed to gather in small numbers indoors with other people who have been fully vaccinated without masking and distancing requirements.

Other changes set to take place once L.A. County enters the red tier include:

  • Museum, zoos and aquariums can open indoors at 25% capacity
  • Gyms, fitness centers, yoga and dance studios can open indoors at 10% capacity with masking requirements for all indoor activities
  • Movie theatres can open indoors at 25% capacity with reserved seating only where each group is seated with at least 6 feet of distance in all directions between other groups
  • Retail and personal care services can increase capacity to 50% with masking required at all times and for all services
  • Indoor shopping malls can increase capacity to 50% with common areas remaining closed; food courts can open at 25% capacity adhering to the restaurant guidance for indoor dining
  • Institutes of higher education can re-open all permitted activities with required safety modifications except for residential housing, which remains under current restrictions for the spring semester
  • Schools are permitted to re-open for in-person instruction for students in grades 7-12 adhering to all state and county directives

To then proceed into the next phase of reopening, the orange tier, counties must hit a daily adjusted rate of fewer than 3.9 new COVID-19 cases per 100,000 residents, along with a testing positivity rate of less than 4.9%. 

Only two California counties are in the orange tier as of early March, both of them rural: Alpine and Sierra.

On Thursday, L.A. County reported 101 new coronavirus-related deaths, bringing the death toll in the region to 22,304. Additionally, 1,378 new cases were reported, bringing the countywide total to 1,208,024.

The county this week was expected to get its largest vaccine shipment yet, including 54,000 doses of the single-shot Johnson and Johnson vaccine.

The county is making a distinctive effort to target underserved communities with mobile vaccination sites in hard-hit areas, as well as opening appointments this week for certain eligible groups at the county’s mega vaccination sites.

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