As has been at worst hinted at repeatedly by local public officials over the past few days, it seems increasingly likely that Los Angeles County and nearby areas across Southern California will be able to move into a less restrictive lockdown tier — from purple, the most restrictive tier, to red — soon, and potentially as quickly as next week. The move would bring about massive changes to daily life for consumers, workers, and small business owners almost immediately, with openings for gyms, movie theaters, and some indoor dining (albeit all at limited capacity). Here’s what we know.
Earlier this week, Los Angeles city Mayor Eric Garcetti told reporters that greater LA is “on the verge” of moving to the red tier “as soon as this coming week,” which would allow for indoor dining. “Hope is on the horizon,” he added in the news report, which aired on ABC7. Similarly, yesterday LA County Public Health Director said that “it is very possible that we will enter the red tier as early as next week,” according to KNX reporter Claudia Peschiutta, though Dr. Ferrer later clarified (when asked) that she meant that LA County could hit the necessary data thresholds to move, not that the move would actually happen.
Under current state-level guidance, individual counties must remain below the necessary thresholds to change tiers for at least two weeks. So why did both the mayor and Dr. Ferrer originally begin to state otherwise? Was it all a slip of the tongue?
Perhaps. But on March 4, California Governor Gavin Newsom formally announced a plan to redistribute 40 percent of the state’s vaccines to disadvantaged areas as a way to “speed up the reopening of the economy,” per the LA Times. Here’s more, from the Times:
After roughly another 400,000 doses are administered to people who live in California’s hardest hit communities — which could happen within the next two weeks — officials in Gov. Gavin Newsom’s administration said the state intends to significantly relax the rules for counties to exit the most restrictive tier of California’s coronavirus reopening blueprint.
“Increasing vaccinations in our hardest-hit communities is both morally right, and good for public health, because it will slow the spread of disease,” says Dr. Mark Ghaly, Secretary of the California Health and Human Services Agency, in a release.
The current target for distribution into disadvantaged communities is 2 million total doses; the state has already sent 1.6 million doses to those areas. Once that new metric is hit, the state will automatically and immediately adjust its necessary thresholds for moves between tiers — most notably, adjusting the number of positive cases from less than seven per 100,000 cases, to less than 10 per 100,000 cases. Los Angeles County, and most nearby counties, are already well under that updated threshold and have been for some time, so any update to the state thresholds would jump those counties immediately down to the lower tier.
Here’s the language from a press release sent out by the governor’s office just minutes ago:
Once that threshold is reached, the Blueprint for a Safer Economy will be updated to allow for somewhat higher case rates in each tier, with an overall effect of allowing counties to loosen health restrictions at a somewhat accelerated, but still responsible, pace.
So: California officials are moving swiftly to bring much-needed vaccines to some of the state’s most important areas. Once that’s done, they will adjust up the threshold numbers needed to move to lower tiers, which will automatically allow many counties across Southern California (including Los Angeles County) to move down into a less-restrictive tier. The new red tier would allow for limited indoor dining at 25 percent of total capacity, based on the business’s certificate of occupancy — or 100 total diners, whichever is fewer.
And there’s more. Gov. Newsom currently has a 6 p.m. state of the state-style address, in front of legislators and streamed live to the public, planned for this coming Tuesday, March 9 at 6 p.m., which would be a rather large stage from which to announce that California, economically speaking, is beginning to reopen. State officials have not confirmed that Newsom will make such an announcement regarding shifting thresholds and new tier assignments, but it seems to be on the table.
Regardless, public health officials are now saying the distribution of necessary vaccines to those hard-hit communities will take at most two weeks, meaning that, no matter what, indoor dining is expected to return to Los Angeles County and much of the state this month. Don’t be surprised if it happens next week.