LA County Expands Reopening Despite Rising Infection Numbers

Shoppers walks past a Nordstrom window display May 27, 2020, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

LOS ANGELES (CN) — Los Angeles County health officials announced Wednesday they will move ahead with reopening gyms, spectator-free professional sports, museums, TV production and other sectors of the economy at the end of the week despite a rise in infections from the novel coronavirus.

Officials said the transmission rate in LA County has increased in recent days, and the spread of the Covid-19 virus will gradually increase over time in the next month.

Still, health officials say they are moving forward reopening plans for spectator-free professional sports, galleries, zoos, hotels and short-term rentals for tourism, and will announce guidelines on Thursday for reopening those parts of the economy starting Friday.

“I feel confident this is a community effort,” said LA County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer. “We’re all in this together. We all want sectors to reopen. We’re desperate to make sure people can get back to their jobs, we just need to do it in a way that adheres to the modifications.”

An ongoing health order will remain in place for cloth face masks and social distancing. Movie theaters, nail salons, bars and live music venues will still remain closed.

LA County reported 61 new deaths on Wednesday and 1,275 new confirmed infections of Covid-19. In total, 2,768 people have died and 67,064 have been infected by the novel coronavirus that causes Covid-19.

Also on Wednesday, Disney announced it would slowly reopen Disneyland in phases beginning in July.

It was not immediately clear what those businesses will have to do to reopen, but LA County qualified for a variance from the state health order last month, which allowed for dine-in restaurants and barbershops to reopen despite a daily death rate that stubbornly remains in the double digits.

LA County Health Services Director Christina Ghaly said on Wednesday the county’s transmission rate has increased and hospitals could see a surge of patients infected with Covid-19 in the next two to three weeks.

Ghaly said when health officials report an increase in the transmission rate, it could be several weeks before that reality is reflected in the daily death numbers because a person can be infected for up to 14 days before they show symptoms.

Ferrer says the county’s testing capabilities have increased and of the 732,000 people who have been tested, just 8% have returned positive.

“No, we are not completely out of the woods and we are still in the middle of the woods,” said Ferrer. “This is not a time for parties or gatherings at your house.”

The data does not point to whether the increase in infections is due to the relaxing of the health orders last month which saw more people leaving their homes for work and leisure, or if the increase was due to recent protests against police violence, which saw thousands march in downtown LA and other parts of the county.

LA County did see a decrease in the seven-day rolling average of deaths, said Ferrer, noting health officials reported a daily average of 46 deaths across the county and 26 deaths in skilled nursing homes on May 8.

As of June 9, the average dropped to 23 deaths across the county and eight in skilled nursing facilities, said Ferrer.

The majority of deaths in LA County have been at institutional settings, like nursing homes, homeless shelters, jails and assisted living facilities. Of the 1,450 people who are dead and lived in those types of settings, 90% were residents at nursing homes according to health officials.

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