Los Angeles County’s 10 million residents joined much of the rest of California in welcoming back restaurant dining and haircuts Friday, moves Gov. Gavin Newsom acknowledged would help fuel an increase in coronavirus cases that he said the state is now well positioned to handle.
While Los Angeles County eases into reopening despite recording more than half the statewide death toll from the pandemic, the governor praised sparsely populated Lassen County at the other end of the state for briefly toggling back its reopening while it tested, tracked and isolated those who may have been exposed during its first small outbreak.
“No one … is naive about the reality of reopening our economy and the expectation that as more and more people mix and are not practicing physical distancing, are not wearing face coverings, that the likelihood that we see a larger spread of this disease presents itself,” Newsom said.
But he listed California’s gains in recent weeks in testing those who may have been infected, treating those with serious reactions in intensive care units newly equipped with thousands of respirators, tracing and isolating those infected, and in distributing masks and other protective gear.
“Our capacity … has never been more robust to address those issues in real time,” Newsom said, adding that he is confident “we can keep a lid on the transmission of Covid-19.”
His comments came after some local health officials said the state may be moving too quickly, without assessing the effect of each phase with a two-week incubation period.
But Newsom said the state’s increased readiness allows state officials to defer to local leaders to determine when it is prudent to gradually relax what once were statewide stay-at-home orders that shuttered the economy. Even San Francisco Bay Area counties, which had been moving in concert, are now diverging in how quickly they allow a resumption of shopping and other activities.
Newsom said the key to a manageable recovery remains local control in a state so vast that its borders would stretch from Vermont to Virginia and a population that eclipses the total in 21 other states combined. He noted that the rates of positive test results, hospitalizations and intensive care cases overall in California have been stable for several weeks.
Los Angeles County officials said in a statement that their county “has demonstrated that it has controlled the spread of the virus, and is protecting residents and essential workers.”
They said hair-cutting businesses can reopen and restaurants can resume dine-in service, but cautioned that if the rate of infection or other key metrics return to unsafe numbers, the county Department of Public Health could limit or close reopened sectors.
The number of cases in Los Angeles County rose above 51,000 on Friday, with the death toll at 2,290. Statewide, California has topped 206,000 confirmed cases and 4,050 deaths. But LA County’s public health director, Barbara Ferrer, said the large number of new cases reported Friday included a backlog of 500 cases reported by one lab.
Ferrer said restaurants, hair salons and barbershops could reopen immediately if they are ready to follow a checklist of protocols that include such things as diagrams on how to achieve distancing in smaller spaces. No inspections are necessary, she said.
“This is like the honor system because we’re all in this together,” Ferrer said. “We have a lot of confidence in our businesses that they’re eager to do this in a way that’s safe for their employees, that’s safe for their customers.”
Lassen County, meanwhile, in far northeastern California, allowed cafes and stores to reopen again after briefly retracting approval when a single infection spread to a handful of others. Dr. Kenneth Korver, the county public health officer, said he also halted the reopening based on reports that others who tested positive were behaving irresponsibly and endangering the county’s 30,000 residents.
The county began reopening businesses May 11 under state guidance that sets limits of fewer than one case per 10,000 residents in the past two weeks.
Forty-nine of the state’s 58 counties have approval to move more quickly into reopening. They can get that approval based on hospitalizations, positive test rates or total case loads, but they must submit plans explaining how they would respond if an outbreak occurred.
Humboldt County on the North Coast was one of the first to get approval to open restaurants but also is now taking a more cautious approach after a spike in cases and its first deaths. Sonoma County’s health director said Wednesday she would slow its reopening after a recent surge in cases.
For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death.