L.A. County will likely qualify to move into red tier soon, health director says

With Los Angeles making significant inroads in vaccinating its most vulnerable residents, it is “highly likely” that the region will qualify to move into a less restrictive tier of California’s reopening plan before the middle of next week, Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said Monday.

Under the state’s adjusted guidelines, if a county has been at a case rate between 7 and 10 for two weeks straight on the day the state hits 2 million doses administered in underserved communities, counties in the most restrictive purple tier can immediately move to the red tier.

As of last week, L.A. County’s adjusted case rate was 7.2 new cases per 100,000.

California’s reopening rules will be updated again once 4 million doses are distributed in underserved areas, state officials said, and passing that threshold will trigger changes to when regions can move to the orange and yellow tiers.

Los Angeles County officials explain California's updated guidelines to reopening business sectors on March 8, 2021.
Los Angeles County officials explain California’s updated guidelines to reopening business sectors on March 8, 2021.

Ferrer said that once the county qualifies to move into the red tier, it could take effect within 48 hours.

That would mean the reopening of more businesses like movie theaters and gyms, and indoor dining can resume, among other changes.

“We are working with Board of Supervisors and all of our sectors to plan for what will be a sensible and safe reopening, as permitted by the state, but appropriate for our county,” Ferrer said.

Also under the red tier, grades seventh through 12th can resume in-person instruction, and Ferrer said her office is working closely with school districts and schools on a plan to safely allow students back on campus.

She noted, however, that middle and high school classrooms will be harder to manage than those in elementary schools because there is more intermingling between classes and even after school.

A safe reopening plan should include incorporating social distancing, ventilation, wearing face masks at all times, no intermingling during lunch time, cleaning, sanitization, easy access to hand washing and having most sports be outdoors, Ferrer said.

The debate over reopening schools continues in the county, however, with Los Angeles Unified School District Superintendent Austin Beutner saying Monday that the second largest school district in the country is aiming to safely reopen middle and high schools in late April.

On Monday, the county reported 13 new coronavirus-related deaths, bringing the death toll in the region to 22,041. Additionally, 880 new cases were reported, bringing the countywide total to 1,204,018.

As of last week, 2,415,460 residents have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. Of those, 814,593 were second doses, Ferrer said.

The county this week was expected to get it’s 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.

But despite progress statewide, experts say California is not near herd immunity, and that a fourth coronavirus wave is possible.

With more reopenings on the horizon and spring break coming up, Ferrer again urged residents to keep masking up, avoid large gatherings and to not let their guard down.

“L.A. County does not exist in a bubble, and we’ve learned that when cases across other parts of the country exist, California can follow. So we can’t afford to be complacent in our collective efforts to slow transmission,” Ferrer said. “Vaccines provide a powerful additional layer of protection, we don’t yet have enough people vaccinated to prevent another disastrous increasing in cases.”

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