In the yellow tier, Los Angeles and San Francisco counties can throw their economic doors farther open than has been permitted since March 2020.
LOS ANGELES (CN) — The rate of new Covid-19 cases in Los Angeles and San Francisco counties dropped below an important threshold Tuesday, allowing them to enter the least restrictive health tier under the state’s guidelines.
Officials in both counties say new health orders allowing more businesses to reopen will take effect starting Thursday — the largest reopening of their economies since the pandemic began.
The stunning turnaround comes months after California weathered a brutal winter that saw dramatic surges in new cases and deaths. Widespread infections and deaths jammed hospitals and mortuaries across the state — and LA became the epicenter.
In recent weeks, though, the rate of new cases and deaths has dramatically dropped in no small part to the introduction of vaccines in the fight against the novel coronavirus. The drop warranted allowing both counties to enter the yellow tier, denoting “minimal” virus spread among residents.
LA County currently has fewer than 400 Covid patients in its hospitals. As of last week, San Francisco had just 15 patients. Since the onset of the pandemic, California has 3.7 million confirmed cases and 62,200 Covid deaths.
In the yellow tier, bars and nightclubs can reopen for the first time since the pandemic began with limited capacity. Meanwhile, restaurants, movie theaters, gyms and other large-scale venues can boost their indoor capacity to welcome more guests.
“This is an incredible milestone for us to hit as we move forward on our path to recovery,” said San Francisco Mayor London Breed in a statement. “The yellow tier means that no longer are there any businesses that are required to keep their doors shut in this city, and it means we are continuing to allow more activities to be done safely with more people.”
LA County’s Board of Supervisors said the new tier “matches the sunny optimism of the season.”
“This has been a long and difficult journey and we are so heartened to arrive at this latest milestone. Entering the yellow tier means we have reached the next-to-last stage before fully reopening, and this is another welcome sign we are moving toward a safe and healthy new normal, one that is guided by hope rather than fear,” the supervisors said in a statement.
Additional details of the new reopening guidelines will be published starting Wednesday and go into effect starting Thursday in both counties.
Covid in California
Confirmed cases to date: 3,645,341
Cases confirmed Monday: 1,349
Covid deaths to date: 60,765
Covid deaths Monday: 2
Vaccines administered: 30,700,655
Californians fully vaccinated: 12,989,812
Unlike the abrupt change that took place more than 400 days ago when California Governor Gavin Newsom issued a statewide stay-at-home order, the climb back to normal has been arduous and at times filled with setbacks.
The enormity of the shutdown brought economic hardship to the hospitality and service industries, sporting events and amusement parks. LA’s economy, like the rest of the world, ground to a halt.
But health officials in LA touted both their massive testing campaign last year and its mass inoculation effort since December for the turnaround. After months of pushing vaccines, the county has seen demand dip with first-dose appointments falling by half and demand so low the city will close its mass vaccination hub at Dodger Stadium.
“We’ve done an amazing job making vaccines available, but there is still work to be done,” said Shira Shafir, an associate professor of epidemiology and community health sciences at the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health, in a phone interview. “There has been a tremendous amount of guidance from federal and local health agencies who say that you can go outside without a mask and gather with people who are also vaccinated. All of that provides huge incentive to get vaccinated but there are still people who are not yet there. They still can get infected.”
Barriers to getting vaccinated persist. Some employers don’t offer sick pay for the time it takes to get the shots and some sites are not open after business hours.
LA County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer hit on both access issues and vaccine hesitancy during a Monday briefing.
“For some people we still have an access issue,” Ferrer said, adding about those who have concerns about safety: “We want people to feel very comfortable that these vaccines are safe and super effective.”
With a pause on the Johnson & Johnson one-shot vaccine lifted, more people will be able to get fully immunized against Covid-19, Shafir said. The manufacturer said it plans to start shipping smaller packages so doctor’s offices and other locations can easily administer doses to make sure there are no missed opportunities.
“Whenever someone is having any type of interaction with the health care sector, there is the chance for them to get vaccinated,” Shafir said.
Roughly 37% of all LA County residents and over 65% of senior citizens are fully vaccinated, according to public health officials. That leaves quite a way to go to reach so-called herd immunity, however.
Still, on June 15 state officials plan to lift most restrictions on businesses and workplaces.
“We’re just in a funny place for a little bit. The light at the end of the tunnel is so close,” said Shafir. “It’s certainly a time for cautious celebration.”