Beaches, more retail stores and outdoor recreational areas can reopen under a new public health order announced by Los Angeles County officials Wednesday.
COVID-19 continues to kill dozens of people in L.A. County each day, with health officials often reporting hundreds of new cases. County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer confirmed another 47 deaths and 1,264 new cases on Wednesday. In about two months, 1,659 people have died of the virus and 33,180 have tested positive.
On Tuesday, county officials indicated some virus-related restrictions would continue for another three months. But the new health order, unlike the one before it, does not have an end date.
“It will go on and be modified over time as appropriate,” Ferrer said Wednesday. “It has a start date of today, and no definitive end date.”
Beaches are being opened for the first time in weeks — allowing only in-motion activities like swimming, surfing, walking and other exercise. Parking lots will remain closed and beachgoers are not allowed to sunbathe, set up picnics, gather for sports games or otherwise set up camp.
A full list of restrictions can be found here.
Last week, the county took its first steps toward reopening since stay-at-home orders took effect in mid-March. Certain businesses such as florists, clothing stores, car dealerships and other retailers reopened their doors while being restricted to curbside service only.
But now all retailers can operate with curbside service under the new health order, Ferrer said. Manufacturing businesses “that supply lower-risk businesses” are also being allowed to reopen, she said.
These retail stores are required to post signs signaling their compliance with social distancing and certain infection control measures. However, businesses located inside indoor shopping centers are still not allowed to operate at all, Ferrer said, citing state rules that still prohibit malls from opening.
Customers are still not allowed to enter the retail stores, which must require people to wear masks and stay 6 feet apart.
The new health order allows use of “tennis and pickleball courts, shooting and archery ranges, equestrian centers, model airplane areas, community gardens and bike parks,” Ferrer said. However, using these spaces requires wearing facial coverings and adhering to restrictions on time, the number of people playing and the physical distance between them.
These recreational spaces will reopen Friday, according to the Los Angeles County Department of Parks and Recreation.
An interactive map from the county shows which parks, beaches and recreational areas are currently open.
Local governments can also temporarily close streets to give space for walking and other activities permitted under the health order. However, officials continue to recommend staying at home as much as possible and avoiding gatherings or events.
Earlier this week, Ferrer said there’s been more “stability” in the rate of death and infection compared to several weeks earlier. “We’ve actually had some tiny decreases,” she said.
But the county is still taking a cautious approach.
“This will be a slow journey,” Ferrer said Wednesday. “In the last few weeks, we’ve worked together to slow the spread of COVID-19, and this will now be our new foreseeable normal in the future. Everywhere we go, we will be taking protections.”
Ferrer said that means wearing a facial covering for the foreseeable future, and at least for now, the continued closure of businesses where people gather or share considerable contact. This includes places like restaurants, gyms, hair salons and movie theaters.
The precautions will continue because the virus isn’t going anywhere, a reality laid bare by the leveling off of deaths and infections. L.A. County continues to hold around half the fatalities and cases in California, which has seen a plateau in the weekly death toll.
In the past month, California recorded around 500 fatalities week after week, according to a Los Angeles Times analysis, signaling no major decline despite widespread stay-at-home orders.
“We’re not moving past COVID-19, we’re learning to live with it — and we will keep taking measured steps toward a new, safer reality in the days and weeks ahead,” Mayor Eric Garcetti said in a statement Tuesday.
With no vaccine or easily accessible testing, public health officials continue to recommend a strategy of containment rather than prevention. “This virus is relentless,” Ferrer said.
That’s where physical distancing and increased infection control measures come in, which she said are the most effective tools against the highly contagious illness.
For now, L.A. County residents are gradually returning to reopened stores and other public places even as the virus continues killing people at a relatively steady rate. The lockdown didn’t bring down the number of infections and deaths as much as health officials may have hoped. But Ferrer said it did manage to prevent more people from getting sick and dying.
“Well, we did accomplish something huge,” Ferrer said. “We did never have a surge, we never had a peak.”
“And I can promise you if everybody hadn’t done their part, if people hadn’t stayed home — that would not have been what the last two months looked like,” she said. “We would have had many, many more cases, and many, many more deaths.”
Cities and countries reopening around the world are facing words of caution from health experts warning of possible spikes in infections. An influential model from the University of Washington indicates more than 6,000 people in California could die of COVID-19 by Aug. 4.
Such a prediction could change the course of action in L.A. County, Ferrer said earlier this week, explaining the county could move more slowly or even backtrack and reinstate restrictions as a result.
“We’re gonna have to watch the numbers really, really closely,” Ferrer said. “If we were to see the kind of spike that’s predicted in that model, that would be extraordinarily worrisome…”