L.A. County is on the cusp of orange tier reopening, but public health officials say it's too early to declare victory over COVID

Chanelle Chandler
·Producer
·5 min read

Los Angeles County continued to edge closer this week to the orange tier for new COVID-19 infections, reporting a daily average of 576 cases over the past seven days, a 62 percent decrease from just two weeks ago.

If the county — which is California’s largest, with 10 million residents — can continue on its current path, more social distancing restrictions would be lifted or eased on a range of businesses, including restaurants, movie theaters, museums and shopping centers.

Currently in the red tier, L.A. County could achieve the orange milestone as early as the first week of April if it can keep its case rate at a level below 3.9 per 100,000 residents for two straight weeks. This week, its average daily COVID-19 infections fell to 3.7 per 100,000.

That decrease has been made possible in part by the arrival of vaccines. To date, L.A. County has administered 3.7 million doses of the inoculation that has been proven highly effective in preventing COVID-19. Roughly 15.6 percent of the county’s population has been fully vaccinated.

People waiting to receive vaccinations
People waiting to receive vaccinations in Los Angeles. (Jason Armond/Los Angeles Times)

On Thursday, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced that by April 15, Californians age 16 and over will be able to get a vaccine. That news puts the state’s vaccination efforts ahead of President Biden’s goal of having vaccinations available for all American adults by May 1.

But Gov. Gavin Newsom cautioned that even with the declining numbers, growing vaccination opportunities and progression in tiers, it’s not quite “mission accomplished” for the state since officials continue to monitor variants from the U.K., Brazil, South Africa, New York and California itself.

“This is not time to take down your guard or literally, as is the case, take off your mask. The most potent and powerful thing you can do is wear a face covering,” Newsom said. “Let us work through the next number of weeks until we get to that place of abundance, moving away from the scarcity mindset where we can meaningfully begin to reopen the economy without the kind of modifications we are currently experiencing.”

Los Angeles County Director of Public Health Barbara Ferrer echoed Newsom’s sentiments.

“We are committed along with everyone to move forward and we are excited about this opportunity to stay on the recovery journey,” Ferrer said during Wednesday’s COVID-19 briefing. “But we have to do it in a way that doesn’t jeopardize safety and we have to do it in a way that pays attention to what our numbers are doing and what we're seeing around the other states and other countries and to be sensible as you move forward.”

The push to lift coronavirus restrictions has been gaining steam nationwide, even though only 36 percent of U.S. adults have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. At a Thursday press conference, Biden announced that his administration had revised its vaccination goals upward to 200 million doses by April 30 so as to try to stop the virus in its tracks.

Joe Biden
Joe Biden speaking with reporters on Thursday. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

“I know it’s ambitious,” Biden said. “Twice our original goal. But no other country in the world has even come close — not even close — to what we’re doing. And I believe we can do it.”

According to a poll from Axios-Ipsos published Tuesday, the number of people who have gone out to eat or visit friends and family is up 12 and 9 percentage points respectively over the last month. Twenty-three percent of people said they believe that dining out poses a large risk to health and well-being, down from 33 percent a month ago. Forty-eight percent of Americans surveyed said they have visited friends or relatives, the highest number since October. Additionally, 55 percent said they had visited a non-grocery retail store, the highest number since May.

The poll also shows 59 percent of people believe returning to their pre-pandemic life poses a large or moderate risk to health and well-being. That’s down 7 points from last month and 11 points from the end of 2020.

On Wednesday, the U.S. reported just shy of 80,000 new cases of COVID-19, more than enough, health experts say, to keep the pandemic going and allow the virus to continue mutating.

“The continued relaxation of prevention measures while cases are still high and while concerning variants are spreading rapidly throughout the United States is a serious threat to the progress we have made as a nation,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said at a press briefing last week.

In L.A. County, just 666 new cases of COVID-19 were currently reported. At the beginning of January, that number hit 16,800.

“With vaccine supply increasing and by expanding eligibility to more Californians, the light at the end of the tunnel continues to get brighter,” Newsom said Thursday.

Yet California Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly was quick to add, “We are not there yet. It will take time to vaccinate all eligible Californians. During this time, we must not let our guard down.”

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