A dramatic drop in new Covid-19 cases and an increase in vaccinations means Los Angeles County can relax its health guidelines and allow more businesses to reopen their doors. But it doesn’t mean the pandemic is over.
LOS ANGELES (CN) — Some semblance of the pre-pandemic world has arrived with spring in Los Angeles County, as new Covid-19 cases have fallen, vaccinations are up and restaurants can allow customers to sit down and eat inside again. But this progress comes as other parts of the country see spikes of new infections that have experts fearing a possible spring wave.
On Monday, LA County reported over 4 million vaccines have been jabbed into residents’ arms. Meanwhile, infection rates have dropped nearly 97%, from over 14,000 cases at the beginning of the year to nearly 400 daily Covid-19 infections in March.
Daily deaths and hospitalizations in LA County have dropped dramatically as well.
The drop in cases means LA County can relax its health order and allow more businesses to reopen. But officials warn this isn’t the end of the pandemic and now would be a bad time to act as if the virus is no longer a threat.
“I see a lot of folks in our community, particularly in the hard-hit areas, that are not abiding by the health order now,” said LA County Supervisor Hilda Solis during a Monday Covid-19 briefing. “People have to cautious and understand that we’re looking at the science and the data. The data is telling us: We did well. But it took a lot of sacrifice.”
The novel coronavirus has killed 23,000 Angelenos. And the economic fallout from the last year is immeasurable.
Health rules that have been in place for the last year remain: wear face masks while out of the home, practice physical distancing in public spaces. Still, Angelenos felt a sense of relief Monday as the county entered the less restrictive “orange” or moderate tier under the state’s health guidelines. Zoos, movie theaters and restaurants can reopen at 50% capacity, while gyms can reopen at 25% indoor capacity.
And bars can reopen for the first time since the lockdowns went into effect more than a year ago, albeit with outdoor service only and strict rules on distancing, masks and a 10 p.m. cutoff.
While over a year of health rules helped curb the spread of Covid-19, vaccines have changed the tune of the once grim data of even a few months ago. Roughly one in every 1,300 residents may be infectious in LA County, down from one in 940 last week. At the height of the pandemic, the figure was closer to 1 in 100 according to available health data.
News of the relaxed health guidelines is a relief, but comes with an important caveat.
“We’re pleased that we’re increasing the opportunities for there to be a return to some of the activities that we really miss so much. But here in LA County we can’t afford any mistakes,” said LA County Public Health Director Dr. Barbara Ferrer.
Roughly 5.5 million residents in LA County have not received any vaccine doses according to health officials, but the county of roughly 10 million is not seeing the same type of spring spike that other parts of the country are experiencing.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said new cases are spiking among younger adults and could be driven by more contagious variants.
“Many outbreaks in young people are related to youth sports and extracurricular activities,” said Walensky during a Monday briefing.
Nearly one in four adults are fully vaccinated, over 40% of adults have at least one shot and 55% of seniors are fully vaccinated according to the White House Covid-19 Response team.
For the first time the U.S. saw 4 million doses administered in a single day over the weekend. Still, White House Covid-19 senior adviser Andy Slavitt urged caution.
“So, headed in the right direction,” he said of the statistics. “The worst thing we could do right now would be to mistake progress for victory.”