California on Friday met its goal to give 2 million COVID-19 vaccine doses to residents in its hardest-hit areas, allowing Los Angeles County to reopen indoor restaurants, gyms and other businesses next week.
Thirteen counties are set to move from the most restrictive purple tier to the red tier in the state’s four-tier, color-coded system for reopenings, including Los Angeles, Orange and San Bernardino counties.
On Tuesday, Riverside, Ventura, San Diego and several other counties are expected to join them in the red tier, allowing more jurisdictions to loosen restrictions, according to the state.
Starting on Monday in L.A. County, schools can choose to bring back students in grades 7 through 12 for on-site learning, and restaurants, gyms, museums and zoos in Los Angeles County can reopen for indoor operations at limited capacity, the L.A. County Department of Public Health said Friday.
Orange and San Bernardino counties will let their restaurants, gyms, movie theaters and other businesses reopen a day before, on Sunday.
The major reopenings come after weeks of falling coronavirus case rates following a virus surge that overwhelmed hospitals and local morgues.
The counties’ transition to the red tier was triggered when the state was able to get more COVID-19 vaccine doses into the arms of residents in areas disproportionately impacted by the pandemic. The target of 2 million vaccine doses was part of a plan announced earlier this month to inoculate people most at risk from the coronavirus as vaccine supplies remain limited.
Each county can choose which sectors to reopen from the list of those permitted by the state in each tier. After a year of strict closures and restrictions, here’s what’s changing on Monday in Los Angeles County:
- Museum, Zoos and Aquariums: can open indoors at 25% capacity.
- Gyms, fitness centers, yoga and dance studios: can open indoors at 10% capacity with masks required.
- Movie theaters: can open indoors at 25% capacity, or 100 people, whichever is fewer. Theaters must have reserved seating and groups should sit at least 6 feet apart.
- Retail and personal care services: can increase capacity to 50% with masking required at all times and for all services.
- Restaurants: can open indoors at 25% max capacity, or 100 people, whichever is fewer. Tables have to be spaced 8 feet apart, with just one household allowed per table with a limit of 6 people seated together. Ventilation should be increased and restaurant employees interacting with customers are urged to have additional masking protection, like N95 masks or double masks and a face shield. Meanwhile, outdoor dining can accommodate up to six people per table from three different households.
- Institutes of higher education: can reopen all permitted activities with required safety modifications, except for student housing which remains under current restrictions for the Spring semester.
- Schools: are permitted to reopen for in-person instruction for students in grades 7-12, while adhering to all state and county guidelines to curb coronavirus spread.
- Private gatherings: can happen indoors with up to three separate households, with masking and distancing required at all times. People who are fully vaccinated can gather in small numbers indoors with other people who are fully vaccinated without masks and distancing.
And according to state guidelines, a move to the red tier also means that starting April 1, major theme parks in those counties can reopen at 15% capacity, while ballparks and stadiums can welcome back fans at 20% capacity.
L.A. County supervisors welcomed the news of more businesses being able to reopen, but urged residents not to let their guards down.
“I’ve never been happier to see red,” said L.A. County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl.
L.A. County Board of Supervisors Chair Hilda Solis attributed the progress to residents’ hard work.
“We have achieved this milestone and moved down to the Red Tier because as a County we worked hard, looked out for one another, and came together to defeat the dark winter surge,” she said. “Although we are taking steps to re-open some of the hardest hit sectors of our economy, that in no way means we can drop our guard now.”
California’s next milestone in vaccinating vulnerable communities will be to give 4 million doses in the high-risk areas. Once the state hits that goal, it will push eligible counties from the red tier to the orange tier, allowing even more sectors to resume operations, California Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly said in a media briefing.
“California is making good strides on achieving the commitment to delivering doses to the hardest hit communities across our state, making sure that our first line of protection is going to those places that have shouldered a greatest burden of disease,” he said.
While news of further reopenings has some residents worried about another devastating virus wave, Ghaly said the state has measures in place to avoid that.
The health secretary said the state’s four-tier system has “some of the strongest public health protections in the nation.”
“As we move forward, if an individual county or a series of counties begins to see their case rate drift upwards, we will of course continue to have a protection of the purple tier above a case rate of 10,” he said.
That means it’s possible for counties to be moved back to more restrictive tiers, forcing them to close some businesses, if infections begin to spike to levels greater than 10 cases per 100,000 residents.
Ghaly said the state expects that there will be “ups and downs” with case numbers, and that’s why the tiered plan is in place.
Still, he urged residents to be cautious and follow coronavirus safety precautions.