L.A. County allows in-store shopping, religious services, drive-up movies; plans to apply for faster reopening

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Los Angeles County will reopen places of worship, drive-in movie theaters and some pools and allow in-store shopping, setting the stage for officials to apply for a variance from the state to be able to reopen spaces faster, Supervisor Kathryn Barger announced Tuesday.

All newly reopened areas will be under strict restrictions to limit the spread of the coronavirus.

The county health department amended its health officer order later Tuesday to allow the additional spaces to reopen. L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti said all retail establishments and houses of worship within the city may reopen— both with strict requirements — starting Wednesday. Hair salons and barbershops have to remain closed, he said.

“Los Angeles County has dedicated critical resources to meet the benchmark criteria to support our efforts to reopen, including ensuring adequate hospital capacity, increasing access and availability of testing and contact tracing, and implementing protections for vulnerable populations,” Barger said in a written statement. “Regional data shows we have flattened the curve, indicating our readiness to move forward in phased recovery.”

Currently, 47 of California’s 58 counties have provided attestations that they meet criteria for a faster reopening and have received approval from the state. That includes Orange, Riverside, Ventura, San Bernardino and Santa Barbara counties.

“This will put Los Angeles County on a level playing field with surrounding counties, which have already been granted variances,” Barger said.

Counties allowed to move through the state’s phases of reopening the economy can open restaurants for dine-in service, shopping malls and swap meets.

Barger said the county will wait for the state’s clearance for re-opening in-person dining and personal care services like hair salons, which Gov. Gavin Newsom announced could reopen in the 47 counties granted variances earlier Tuesday.

Here’s what L.A. County announced can reopen Tuesday:

  • Faith-based institutions can resume services, but at less than 25%, or with a maximum of 100 congregants, whichever is lower.
  • All retail, including those at malls, may now open for in-store shopping at 50% capacity.
  • Flea markets, swap meets and drive-in movie theaters may resume operations.
  • Pools, hot tubs and saunas that are in a multi-unit residence or part of a homeowners association may now open.

Everyone will have to wear face coverings and adhere to physical distancing requirements.

The new changes align the county’s orders with those of the state’s, which on Monday announced that retailers outside of sectors that were deemed essential during the pandemic can reopen their doors to customers, and houses of worship can reopen for religious services—both with safety measures in place and the approval of county health officials.

Previously, only businesses in counties that have passed a series of criteria set by the state could do so. And up until Tuesday, most retailers in L.A. County were only allowed to offer delivery or curbside service.

“With the greenlight from Governor Newsom, people can go back inside our houses of worship and retail shops, with common sense guidelines in place,” Supervisor Janice Hahn said in a writeen statement. “I am hopeful that we can continue to work with the Governor to restore life in Los Angeles County in safe, measured ways — getting people back to work and doing everything within our own power to prevent the spread of this virus.”

All counties approved to reopen faster had to attest they meet the state’s requirements, which include benchmarks for the number of COVID-19 cases and the availability of temporary shelters for the homeless.

“If we don’t do it right, we’ll see things get shut down. But I believe that we can do it right and we’ve earned the right way to do it,” Garcetti said at a news conference. “That means the more Angelenos will be able to earn a paycheck, pay for the rent, put food on their table, means that small and medium sized businesses that are the bedrock of community wealth and our main streets will be able to have the same competitive advantage that we’ve given to others.”

The L.A. County Board of Supervisors was considering letting some cities and communities reopen sooner than others if they have fewer cases of COVID-19, Gov. Gavin Newsom said Tuesday.

The motion, co-authored by supervisors Janice Hahn Kathryn Barger, would allow variances within the region and cites the pandemic’s unequal effect in the vast county.

“This virus is impacting each city in our County differently; some cities have zero reported cases while others have case rates greater than 700 per 100,000 residents,” the proposal reads.

“All cities who believe they meet the state’s variance criteria, and wish to be considered for a partial variance, should send their request initially to the County’s Chief Executive Officer for submission to the County’s Public Health Officer,” the motion says.

On Tuesday, Newsom acknowledged the request.

“We look forward to working with [L.A. County officials] more substantively and specifically about areas that they would recommend,” the governor said.

RELATED: L.A. County COVID-19 case counts by city and community

Hahn said earlier she had made a request to Gov. Newsom to let all retailers welcome customers, arguing that smaller businesses can easily implement the safety measures followed by big-box chains such as Costco and Walmart.

Hahn told KTLA that the Board of Supervisors has “made it very clear” to the county’s health director that the panel wants the county to loosen restrictions just as the governor has for the state.

“I’m pretty sure that tomorrow, we should get word from Dr. Barbara Ferrer to align our health order with this new order out of the governor’s office,” Hahn said Monday.

As of Tuesday, the L.A. County Department of Public Health has reported nearly 48,000 COVID-19 cases and 2,143 deaths—accounting for roughly half of cases and fatalities confirmed in the state.

Nearly half of the deaths — 47% — were in nursing homes. The supervisors on Tuesday voted unanimously to create a new position of inspector general to oversee skilled nursing facilities.

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