After Los Angeles County avoided a major Labor Day coronavirus surge and recorded a decline in COVID-19 hospitalization rates, county officials on Wednesday announced they will be allowing nail salons and shopping malls to reopen for indoor operations at reduced capacity.
“We’ll proceed with a staggered approach to reopenings that will go over the next 10 days, and we’ll finalize the dates for each sector’s reopening by Friday,” Health Director Barbara Ferrer said at a news conference.
Nail salons will be allowed to open for some indoor services again, but at 25% capacity. Officials encourage the salons to continue offering services outdoors, “where the air circulation is better and there’s lower risk of disease transmission,” Ferrer said.
Indoor shopping malls will also be allowed to reopen over the next 10 days at 25% maximum occupancy, but all food courts and common areas have to stay closed.
Cardrooms will be allowed to reopen for outdoor gaming only and without serving food and beverages.
The county is also allowing outdoor playgrounds to reopen — but only with the approval of the cities where they’re located or the County Parks and Recreation Department, Ferrer said.
All parents and children aged two and older have to wear face coverings while at the playgrounds and they can’t eat or drink in the playground area.
L.A. County on Tuesday announced it will allow breweries and wineries serving meals to reopen for outdoor services starting next week.
Officials also announced the county will begin accepting applications for waivers to reopen elementary schools for in-person instruction for grades TK-2 in early October.
Students will be in cohorts of no more than 12 children and two supervising adults in each classroom, Ferrer said.
The health department will review applications for 30 schools each week and will prioritize issuing waivers to schools with the most students qualifying for free or reduced meals, according to the Department of Public Health.
But even as the county begins to allow the additional reopenings, officials said caution is necessary.
“We have to remember that with every re-opening there is increased risk for COVID-19 transmission,” Ferrer said in a Tuesday statement. “Our cautious approach to re-opening, thus far, has led to slight decreases of daily cases, hospitalizations and deaths, and we will continue to move cautiously so that we can consider safely reopening additional services and businesses in the near future.”
The health department will be “meticulously” reviewing waiver applications to make sure campuses that do open their doors to students have the protocols in place to curb the spread of the virus, Ferrer said.
L.A. County to stay in purple tier for at least another three weeks
Currently, most schools in L.A. County can’t reopen for in-person instruction because the region still lingers on the purple tier — the the most restrictive phase of the state’s four-tier, color-coded system for reopenings.
That could change if the county can get its daily coronavirus case rate back down to 7 cases or fewer per 100,000 residents, and stay at that rate for two weeks. Currently, L.A. County has a case rate of 7.3, officials said.
L.A. County has met the other state requirement to advance onto the next stage, the red tier, which would allow additional reopenings.
The county’s coronavirus test positivity rate stands at 2.9% — a figure far lower than what’s required for L.A. County to move onto the red tier.
The rate is now also the lowest it’s been since the beginning of the pandemic.
L.A. County is expected to remain in the purple tier for “at least another three weeks,” Ferrer said.
COVID-19 hospitalizations have been declining and the county has avoided a major surge in cases that was feared after Labor Day holiday — though Ferrer on Wednesday noted a small increase in cases that may either reflect less coronavirus testing from early September or that the county is starting to see increases in virus transmission.
The average daily number of COVID-19 deaths has also plummeted to levels not seen since early April — a reflection of decreased infections and hospitalizations, but also a result of improvements in treating COVID-19 patients and the shift to younger residents getting infected more than older ones, Ferrer said.
As of Wednesday, L.A. County recorded a total of 270,299 coronavirus cases with 6,576 deaths.
“I do not want us to become discouraged because we remain in the most restrictive tier,” Ferrer said. “We’re the largest county, and there has been steady and significant decreases in cases positivity rates hospitalizations and deaths, and this is due to the actions of businesses and residents and to our county’s cautious approach to reopening.”