Los Angeles County’s Covid-19 case rate continued to fall on Tuesday, putting the region on pace to move into an even less-restrictive tier of the state’s economic-reopening Blueprint by early April. That would allow for higher capacity in many business sectors including movie theaters, restaurants, concerts and sporting events. L.A. and Orange County currently sit in the state’s second-most-restrictive, or Red, tier.
According to California’s weekly update of county-by-county Covid figures, Los Angeles’s average daily rate of new virus infections fell to 3.7 per 100,000 residents, down from 4.1 last week. A county qualifies for the orange tier if its case rate is 3.9 or less.
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The new, lower rate means L.A. officially meets the criteria to qualify for a move out of the current Red tier and into the less-restrictive Orange tier. However, a county must remain in a tier for a minimum of three weeks before being able to advance to a less restrictive tier. The state moved Los Angeles County into the Red tier on March 12, so the earliest it could move to Orange is the first weekend in April. That’s assuming there’s no reversal in Covid case trends.
On Monday, L.A. County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer reported that the estimated transmission number, or R, has been climbing the the past three weeks. R was 0.93 in early March, up from 0.87 the week before. The range of uncertainty means R could be anywhere from .085 to 1.04. Any R number over 1 means that every person infected is passing the virus on to more than one other county resident. In a region of 10 million, infections can quickly snowball.
But back to the good news.
Orange County CEO Frank Kim said the county’s case rate as of Sunday was 3.5 per 100,000 residents and the overall positivity rate was 2.1% and the “health equity” positivity rate among the county’s underserved neighborhoods was at 3.2%.
That means the O.C. now meets the metrics for the state’s Blueprint for reopening businesses but, like L.A., it must continue that level for two more weeks before it can move on from the Red tier.
“Overall, the numbers look good,” said Kim, adding he was a “little bit nervous” about the slight increase in hospitalizations. Kim noted that recent declines appear to have leveled off since last week.
In addition to Los Angeles and Orange Counties, Alameda, Butte, Calaveras, Colusa, El Dorado, Imperial, Modoc, Monterey, Napa and Santa Cruz could move up in two more weeks if their numbers hold.
Earlier on Tuesday, six Northern California counties with a population exceeding 3 million did manage to make the jump from the Red to the Orange tier. They are San Francisco, Santa Clara, Lassen, Marin, Trinity and Yolo.
Moving to the Orange tier authorizes the counties to lift all capacity restrictions on retail and personal care businesses, while raising the capacity limit from 25% to 50% for movie theaters, churches, museums, zoos, aquariums and restaurants. Concerts and live sporting events would be allowed to reopen outdoors at 20% capacity. Fitness center capacity could be increased from 10% to 25%.
Counties can opt to maintain stricter rules than the state authorizes but that seems unlikely, especially in Orange County where Disneyland is set to reopen on April 30. A reopening in the Orange tier vs. the Red would mean 66% more capacity for the park — and more county residents back at work.
When the counties reach the Red tier, Governor Gavin Newsom will allow theme parks to reopen at 15% of overall capacity. When counties advance to the Orange tier, capacity will be increased to 25%.
Speaking to the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday, L.A. County’s Ferrer confirmed the timeline for a possible move to the Orange tier, but she warned that increases in Covid-19 cases are being seen in many states and other countries, so there is continuing fear of another bump in infections locally.
As with Orange County, the number of L.A. residents hospitalized with the virus was 719 as of Tuesday, a slight rise from 713 on Monday, according to state figures. The number of people in intensive care was listed at 180. But Ferrer also noted that Monday’s numbers were likely lower — at least in part — due to reporting delays from the weekend.
City News Service contributed to this report.