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With coronavirus cases and hospitalizations declining in Los Angeles County, the state may soon allow the nation’s most populous county to move into a less restrictive tier in California’s coronavirus plan, allowing more businesses to reopen to the public.

Under the state’s Blueprint for a Safer Economy, counties that meet certain thresholds on test positivity and adjusted COVID-19 case rates will become eligible to move from the purple tier — the strictest among the state’s four-level reopening road map — into the slightly less restrictive red tier.

That would mean limited reopening of indoor dining and movie theaters, among other changes.

To qualify, the county needs to hit a daily rate below seven new cases per 100,000 residents, and a test positivity rate at or below 8%, for two straight weeks. L.A. County is quickly approaching those figures, county public health Director Barbara Ferrer said Wednesday.

More than two-thirds of California’s 58 counties are in the purple tier, including all of Southern California. Seven counties made the transition to the red tier this week, including San Francisco.

Both Los Angeles and Orange counties are moving in that same direction, data show. Case rates remain higher in Riverside, Ventura and San Bernardino counties.

“It is very possible that we’ll enter the red tier as early as next week,” Ferrer said in a briefing Wednesday, when the county’s adjusted case rate was 7.2 new cases per 100,000 people and the test positivity rate was 3.5%.

Ferrer said if the county is able to remain in the red tier for at least two weeks, in-person learning would be permitted to resume for students in seventh through 12th grade — but that’s a complicated issue. “We’ve already begun planning for this,” she said.

Meanwhile, state sources said later Wednesday that after 2 million vaccines have been distributed in California’s most vulnerable areas, counties will become eligible to move into the red tier more easily — when they are seeing fewer than 10 cases per 100,000 residents, rather than seven new cases or less.

If L.A. County reaches the required numbers to move into the red tier, state guidelines would allow for the reopening of additional sectors, although the county public health department may issue guidelines that are stricter than the state’s.

Here’s what can reopen if L.A. County — and other SoCal counties — enter the red tier:

  • Indoor dining at 25% capacity or 100 people, whichever is fewer
  • Indoor movie theaters at 25% capacity or 100 people, whichever is fewer
  • Indoor places of worship at 25% capacity
  • Indoor gatherings with a maximum of three households
  • Indoor gyms and fitness centers at 10% capacity, and climbing walls may reopen
  • All retail at 50% capacity (up from 25% in purple tier)
  • Libraries at 50% capacity, following guidance for retailers
  • Shopping centers, including malls, destination centers and swap meets, at 50% capacity (up from 25% in purple tier)
  • Indoor museums, zoos, and aquariums at 25% capacity
  • Fitness centers in hotels and lodging at 10% capacity

Note that many businesses are required to have safety modifications in place to proceed with reopening.

Here’s what stays the same from the purple tier to the red tier:

  • Bars, breweries, and distilleries where no food is provided remain closed. (If food is provided, they can may follow the same guidance as restaurants.)
  • Wineries may continue to operate outdoors only
  • Personal care services can open indoors
  • Critical infrastructure remain open
  • Outdoor playgrounds and outdoor recreational facilities remain open
  • Family entertainment centers (such as kart racing, mini golf, batting cages) will remain outdoors only
  • Cardrooms and satellite wagering can open outdoors only
  • Offices will continue with remote work
  • Professional sports will remain open without live audiences
  • Live audience sports remain closed
  • Amusement parks remain closed

To 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.