More LA County Businesses Approved for Reopening

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

LOS ANGELES (CN) — Shopping malls and nail salons are the latest businesses in Los Angeles County approved for reopening under limited capacity over the coming days, after action late Tuesday by state health officials.

The move comes a day after officials said LA County would remain in the state’s most restrictive category of mandated health restrictions for at least two more weeks.

Under state guidelines, counties must show two successive weeks of improvement in stemming viral spread before progressing in the state’s four-tiered reopening framework, meaning the county’s indoor dining ban will remain until at least mid-October.

After the state’s most populous county experienced an increase in the number of infections per 100,000 residents, health officials said LA County would also be barred from reopening with reduced capacity any indoor services at places of worship, movie theaters, gyms and schools.

The county’s positivity rate is 2.9%, but its new Covid-19 cases per 100,000 residents is just above the 7.0% required to move to a less restrictive tier.

Los Angeles and 18 other counties remain in the purple tier, compared to 30 counties two weeks ago. Counties in the lowest tier include Ventura, San Bernardino, Kern and Stanislaus.

But under new guidance issued Tuesday by health officials, malls and nail salons in LA County may reopen at 25% indoor capacity, though mall food courts and common areas must remain closed.

Playgrounds across LA County can also reopen, according to officials, though individual jurisdictions will ultimately decide whether to reopen parks.

The changes come after California Health and Human Services chief Mark Ghaly announced this week his projections of a 89% surge in hospitalizations statewide by the end of October. 

But Ghaly said Tuesday that LA County can reopen certain sectors even further if residents continue to practice social distancing and wear masks and businesses comply with health guidelines.

The county inched closer to its full reopening goal after the Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday to allow some public school districts and private schools to apply for a waiver to reopen transitional kindergarten through second-grade classrooms

Most of the state’s more than 6 million students have been learning from home since March, when schools and large sectors of the economy closed due to the novel coronavirus pandemic. 

But under more recent state guidelines, schools were allowed to apply with local health officials for a waiver to reopen classrooms.

After pressure to revisit its anti-waiver stance, LA County supervisors said Tuesday offering limited in-person instruction will help students who are performing poorly in the current distance learning setup or those who have special needs. 

Also on Tuesday, the board approved by a 3-2 vote a motion by Supervisors Janice Hahn and Kathryn Barger allowing breweries and wineries to serve customers outdoors in one week and in compliance with public health orders.

California has allowed breweries and wineries to reopen for outdoor service if they collaborate with a third-party vendor that serves food.

LA County officials have not permitted breweries and wineries to reopen if they don’t have restaurant licenses, which is difficult for the businesses since many don’t have the permits or kitchens.  

Hahn said in a statement the reopened establishments will have to take reservations and enforce social distancing.

“We have made progress slowing the spread of this virus and we did not see the spike in cases after Labor Day that I know many of us had been dreading,” Hahn said. “The action we are taking puts us in line with the state’s health orders.”

During the board meeting Tuesday, supervisors expressed concern about a repeat of events earlier this year when Covid-19 cases surged after businesses in the county such as gyms were allowed to reopen.

“I think some of us still have sticker shock from May when some said we reopened too soon,” Hahn said Tuesday. “But I do feel we’re at a tipping point regarding people’s jobs and livelihoods. Every week we don’t allow businesses to open, we move closer to putting the last nail in their coffin in terms of their business and for employees not having a business to go back to.”

LA County Department of Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer told supervisors she’s certain the county will enforce business compliance with health orders if any future reopening occurs.

Ferrer noted the existing county program enforcing compliance among businesses and said it’s functioning as intended. 

Public health workers conduct weekly inspections of restaurants and hotels and a public hotline to anonymously report business non-compliance receives more than 2,000 a week, Ferrer said.

Still, the public health official said she understands supervisors’ concerns.

“I think it’s appropriate to be worried because with this virus there are always unknowns and always opportunities to transmit the virus to each other,” Ferrer said. 

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