Los Angeles County officials are hoping to find out as early as Friday whether they’ll be allowed to reopen restaurants for in-person dining, along with barbershops and hair salons.
The county submitted its variance application on Wednesday to the state, which decides if counties can reopen at an accelerated rate if they meet certain COVID-19 benchmarks.
Thus far, that variance approval has been granted within days for 47 counties, including all that surround L.A. County. The variance for Ventura County was approved within 48 hours.
“Regional data shows we have flattened the curve, indicating our readiness to move forward in phased recovery,” Supervisor Kathryn Barger said in a statement. Barger expressed hope that the approval would be granted by Friday. “This will put Los Angeles County on a level playing field with surrounding counties, which have already been granted variances.”
Gov. Gavin Newsom, who established the variance process in May, has cautioned residents that, although businesses across the state are starting to reopen, the threat of the coronavirus is not over.
“The reality is, this has just begun,” Newsom said at his news conference on Tuesday. “It hasn’t ended. And while we are moving forward because of stabilization, because of the good work that’s been done by health officials all across this nation, all across the state of California, specifically, to suppress the spread of this virus, by no stretch of the imagination is this virus behind us.”
Some counties have already tapered expectations after getting approval to reopen. This week, officials in Sonoma County, one of the first counties to begin reopening, were forced to decide they wouldn’t reopen in-store retail, hair salons and places of worship after easing restrictions earlier this month and watching the case rate double.
And in Santa Clara County, the county’s health officer Dr. Sara Cody expressed concerns Tuesday that California risks a surge in cases if it reopens too many sectors of society too quickly.
Since early May, “the state has shifted away from the stay-at-home model and has made significant modifications with increasing frequency,” Cody said. “The pace at which the state has made these modifications is concerning to me.”
In its application to the state, L.A. County officials make the case that the county has met the criteria created by the California Department of Public Health to reopen.
For example, Los Angeles County had to prove that the prevalence of COVID-19 cases is low enough that, if the stay-at-home order is eased and cases undoubtedly increase, the county will have the capacity to respond.
Los Angeles County reported a decline in its total number of hospitalized patients, a seven-day average of daily percent change of -1%, according to the variance application.
L.A. County also had to prove that the prevalence of the coronavirus spreading in the community was low enough to reopen. The state’s criteria is: fewer than 25 new cases per 100,000 residents in the past 14 days, or less than 8% testing positive in the past seven days.
L.A. County was able to meet the latter, with 6.5% people testing positive in the past seven days, according to the variance application. Meanwhile, the county saw almost 100 cases (98.7) per 100,000 people in the past 14 days, four times higher than the state’s criteria.
One of the more concerning portions of the county’s application related to showing nursing homes are prepared should the COVID-19 pandemic intensify.
As of Tuesday, only 33% of the 381 nursing homes in L.A. County had enough personal protective equipment to last more than 14 days, according to the application. Less than half, 47%, have enough N95 masks to last two weeks, and only one-third have adequate gowns.
Dr. Christina Ghaly, director of health services for L.A. County, said last week that at the start of the coronavirus outbreak, every one person who contracted the virus infected more than three others. After the stay-at-home order was issued, that rate of transmission dropped to one — every person who contracted the virus infected only one other.
But, Ghaly warned, that number could rise again if the use of face coverings and social distancing practices do not continue.
For the past four days, the number of hospitalizations in L.A. County has remained relatively unchanged from 1,440 to 1,477 people in hospital care, and between 28% and 27% in intensive care. The county has also reported for the past four days that 8% of those who have been tested for the virus have been positive.
In the application to the state, the county included a draft of its community mitigation plan, which outlines how the pandemic could play out in the coming months in Los Angeles County.
According to that mitigation plan, completed May 15, health officials anticipate additional waves of cases at varying levels of severity will occur over the next 18 to 24 months throughout the U.S., including Los Angeles County, and will continue until enough people — at least 60% to 70% of the population — are immune to the virus.
“Extraordinary and historically unprecedented efforts have resulted in disease transmission slowing in Los Angeles County,” the plan reads. “However, its future course is still highly unpredictable.”
Times staff writers Rong-Gong Lin II contributed to this report.