Los Angeles County public health officials continued to report a decline in coronavirus case numbers Sunday, raising hope that more restrictions on businesses might soon be relaxed.
New cases and deaths are always lower on the weekends because not all laboratories report results.
Still, the county recorded just 438 new cases and 20 related deaths, according to the public health department, capping several weeks of sustained declines. The county has logged an average of 590 new cases per day over the last week, a 62% drop from two weeks before, according to The Times’ coronavirus tracker. There were 750 COVID-19 patients in county hospitals as of Saturday, a decline of nearly 33% from two weeks before.
Officials have said that if the downward trend continues, it’s possible L.A. County could move into the less-strict orange tier of the state’s color-coded reopening blueprint next month. That would enable bars to reopen outdoors, lift capacity restrictions on stores and increase limits on restaurants, churches, gyms, museums and movie theaters. The county already has moved out of the strictest purple tier and into the red tier, allowing restaurants, gyms, museums and movie theaters to resume operations indoors at limited capacity.
“It’s time to get things moving,” Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said Sunday in an interview on CBS’ “Face the Nation.” “It’s time to get our economy started. It’s time to start hugging our loved ones again.”
He sought to draw a distinction between the most recent relaxation of rules and a rapid reopening of the economy in May that was blamed for a subsequent surge in infections in June and July. Unlike then, he said, experts now believe that between half and two-thirds of L.A.’s population has antibodies due to being either exposed to the virus or vaccinated against it.
“So it is a very different context than when openings happened last July or when openings didn’t happen in December but we still saw this virus burn through our city,” Garcetti said. “This is a very, very optimistic moment.”
Tiers are assigned based on three factors: COVID-19 case rates, the rate of positive test results and a health-equity metric intended to ensure that the positive test rate in poorer communities is not significantly higher than the county’s overall figure.
Counties need to record two straight weeks of qualifying data to advance to a less-restrictive tier and must remain in a tier for at least three weeks before moving again.
To move from the red to orange tier, a county must have an adjusted coronavirus case rate of 3.9 or fewer new cases per 100,000 people each day, a test positivity rate of under 5% and a health equity metric of less than 5.3%.
According to the latest data released Tuesday, L.A. County checked both the health equity and positivity rate boxes, but its calculated case rate — 4.1 — was still a tad too high. The county remains two weeks away, at best, from potentially advancing.
Orange County is in the same boat, with two qualifying metrics but an adjusted case rate of exactly 4.0. The county has also continued to report declines, on Sunday recording 113 cases of the virus and 45 deaths; hospitalizations have dropped by roughly 35% over the last two weeks.
Reopening was made easier after state officials redrafted the roadmap upon meeting a goal of administering 2 million COVID-19 vaccine doses in California’s most disadvantaged communities, lowering the case-rate benchmarks counties must meet to move through the tiers. Once the state gives out 4 million doses in those areas, the criteria will loosen even further.
Although the pace of inoculations has ramped up over the last few weeks, officials say that a shortage of vaccine remains the chief constraint. Remaining appointments at L.A. County-run vaccination sites will be limited to second doses this week due to low supply, the public health department said Sunday.
Garcetti said the city is capable of giving out twice as many shots as it’s currently administering. “Give us more, we’ll get them into arms,” he said.
Health officials have urged people to continue following sanitary guidelines such as masking, distancing and frequent handwashing until the vaccine is able to be distributed more widely, noting that just because restrictions were loosened on some activities doesn’t mean they are risk free.
Times staff writer Luke Money contributed to this report.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.