LOS ANGELES, CA —Though the coronavirus transmission is on the rise in Los Angeles County, officials are looking at easing restrictions on a variety of businesses including bars, day camps, schools and child care facilities and film/TV production companies.
New state guidelines would allow for the reopening of such businesses under certain conditions as early as Friday. Los Angeles County, which has reopened faster than its counterparts in Northern California, remains the epicenter of the state's outbreak. The number of coronavirus cases in Los Angeles County topped 64,000 Monday and the death toll reached 2,655. Another 10 deaths were reported and he county Department of Public Health also announced another 823 confirmed cases of the coronavirus Monday. That is lower than normal, but the numbers tend to be lower on Mondays due to reduced testing on the weekend, and many testing centers shutdown last week amid the civil unrest.
Though there have been some troubling signs of an increase in the spread of COVID-19 in Los Angeles as huge crowds gather to protest police brutality, there have also been some promising indicators. Health officials have said that key indicators, such as hospitalization rates, have remained steady or declined. That number is behind the optimism, prompting the reopening of restaurants and hair salons in Los Angeles.
Los Angeles County health officials have yet to decide if LA is ready to open up bars, camps and TV production.
"The county is actively reviewing the guidelines from the state to determine how these organizations can reopen with necessary safeguards and with the precautions in place," County Supervisor Kathryn Barger said. "An announcement will be made prior to Friday regarding which sectors can reopen with their final protocols.
"This is another important milestone for the county as we continue our path toward recovery and transition from safer at home to safer at work and safer in our communities," she said.
But make no mistake, since the reopening of several types of businesses last month, Los Angeles is starting to see a slow increase in the transmission rate. Before the shutdown, each infected person on average spread the disease to slightly more than three others. That rate dropped below one during the shutdown and has since cread up above one again.
Dr. Christina Ghaly, director of health services for L.A. County, said the uptick appears to be link to the easing of the shutdown.
“While we don’t know precisely yet how reopening and the recovery activities will affect transmission of COVID-19,” Ghaly told the Los Angeles Times. The transmission rate “does appear now to be greater than one, and slightly uptrending. If transmission has indeed increased, then the model predicts that we will have a continued increase in hospital patient volume over the next two to four weeks, and we would anticipate beginning to see that change happen over the coming one to two weeks.”
County elected and health officials have expressed repeated concerns over the possibility that recent mass protests against police brutality may result in a spike in new infections, potentially putting more pressure on area hospitals.
Barger said the county is continuing to monitor health data and it will play a crucial role in deciding whether to authorize more parts of the economy to reopen.
"Make no mistake, we are doing this in a very deliberate and cautious way and actually have been one step behind the surrounding counties for that reason, because of the size, 10 million people, we recognize that there are a lot of other issues that come into place," she said. "But we also recognize that the longer we stay closed knowing that we actually can do it (reopen) in a responsible way with social distancing and requiring people to wear cloth face coverings, that we need to get back to work and get the economy back working. And we can do both. It's not either-or."
But she again warned that if people are failing to take precautions when out in public -- be it a protest or going to the beach -- it could have consequences down the line.
"One of the questions asked to me (is) `Why are protesters allowed to go out and defy public health orders but businesses don't get that same break?"' she said. "The reality is that this is our new norm right now. So I hope that people who are out protesting are practicing social distancing and wearing face cloths, because I don't want to have to revisit in three weeks businesses on the cusp of opening that know if they do not open they will not ever open again."
City News Service and Patch Staffer Paige Austin contributed to this reprt.