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Slowing COVID-19 has California weighing next reopening steps

California health officials are beginning to mull what the next phase of reopening may look like, offering a glimmer of hope for places like Los Angeles County.

For more than a month, the bulk of the state’s 58 counties have been on a watchlist of municipalities with worrisome COVID-19 statistics. Health officials weigh key metrics to gauge the virus’ spread in the community and the county’s ability to respond to it. Counties that don’t meet the state’s criteria are restricted from fulling opening all parts of the economy.

There are six key benchmarks that must be met before a county can be removed from the list, and Los Angeles County has hit five of them: the average daily number of infections; hospitalizations and deaths are all declining; the county is testing more than 150 people per 100,000 residents daily; and it has enough intensive care beds and ventilators to conceivably handle a sharp rise in patients.

But L.A. County is far removed from the required 14-day average of fewer than 100 infections per 100,000 residents. As of Tuesday , the county’s rate was 239.2 positive cases per 100,000 people. Still, the average is a marked improvement from last week’s 335 per capita.

“As counties come off the list, we’d consider what the update to the state health officer order would be to begin moving from where they are today to potentially a degree of being reopened,” state health officer Dr. Mark Ghaly said at a news conference Tuesday.

“We’re working through that internally, looking at the data closely, ensuring the timing is right statewide.”

People wear masks while walking on the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk as a coronavirus precaution.

(Jeff Chiu / Associated Press )

On Monday, Santa Cruz County was removed from the state’s watchlist, and Amador, Mendocino, Inyo and Calaveras counties were added. San Diego County, which has been reporting less than 100 new coronavirus cases per 100,000 residents for days now, could be taken off the list next week if the trend continues.

“Many counties across the state are doing things really well,” Ghaly said, citing the success of mask requirements, isolating the sick and tracking down new cases as part of the reason. “Some of those that are nearing coming off the monitoring list have likely been at some of these efforts potentially a little longer.”

On Monday, there were nearly 10,000 new cases reported and nearly 100 more deaths. And while infections and deaths have dropped in recent days, hospitalizations increased Tuesday for the first time in two weeks, Ghaly said.

“One day is not a trend, but it’s an important number that we’ll continue to watch to make sure it doesn’t become a trend,” he said.

1/20

Christina Dagle and her daughter Eleanor Eades, 4, buy flowers from Devynn’s Garden in Seal Beach. Some businesses began reopening Friday under a relaxation of the state’s stay-at-home order.  

(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

2/20

Manager Ruben Cortez with online orders ready to be picked up at Lovell’s Records in Whittier. 

(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

3/20

Davon Artis, owner of Cool Kicks, sits with a bottle of hand sanitizer as he awaits customers Friday at his sports shoe and apparel store on Melrose Avenue. Artis said he had only a few curbside customers. 

(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

4/20

Jessica Knudsen, a sales associate at Cookies, a street wear clothing store on Melrose Avenue in Los Angeles, gives change and a backpack purchase to customer Jason Green of Tampa, Fla.  

(Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)

5/20

Kim Wicker, owner of Monte’s Camera in Whittier, continued to keep his shop closed Friday.  

(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

6/20

A security guard gets some exercise while keeping watch at the still-closed Apple Store on the Third Street Promenade in Santa Monica on Friday.  

(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

7/20

Katrina Woerner at her family business, Pour Le Bain in Whittier, which reopened Friday for online order pickup. 

(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

8/20

Ben, Julia, Luke and Ethan Brenier, from left, help ready their family store, the Wishing Well, for reopening in Whittier.  

(Dania Maxwell / Los Angeles Times)

9/20

Shopper Enid Koffler, left, talks with clothing store owner Holly Boies at her shop on Abbot Kinney Boulevard in Venice. Boies is planning to open her store Friday for curbside pickup.
 

(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

10/20

Ethan Brenier helps his mother prepare to reopen their family store in Whittier.
 

(Dania Maxwell / Los Angeles Times)

11/20

Rebecca Barnes prepares bouquets at a florist in Long Beach, set to open two days before Mother’s Day.
 

(Luis Sinco / Los Angelels Times)

12/20

Customers in San Clemente, without wearing masks or abiding by social distancing guidelines, stand in line at a newly reopened restaurant.
 

(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

13/20

Linda McLoughlin Figel, owner of Pages a Bookstore in Manhattan Beach, left, helps customer Michael Leo.  

(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

14/20

A mural decorates a closed business in Long Beach.  

(Luis Sinco/Los Angeles Times)

15/20

A closed thrift shop on Main Street in Santa Monica. Some retail businesses will reopen for curbside pickup Friday.
 

(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

16/20

Kay Kabir, 71, walks down a deserted Third Street Promenade in Santa Monica. 

(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

17/20

Debra Consani prepares the Growing Wild florist for reopening in Manhattan Beach.
 

(Jay L. Clendenin/Los Angeles Times)

18/20

Jay Demircift, co-owner of Puzzle Zoo, prepares his shop in Santa Monica, which will be reopening at a later date.  

(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

19/20

A message board tracks the struggles of a shop owner on Main Street in Santa Monica.
 

(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

20/20

Alice Lefae cleans up a Long Beach shop’s exterior in preparation for Friday’s reopening.
 

(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

Looking ahead, Ghaly urged the public to prepare for the flu season, which is imminent. Because the illness is also a respiratory disease, many of the precautions people are taking against the transmission of COVID-19 should work to slow the spread of the flu.

“But unlike for COVID, we actually have a vaccine,” Ghaly said. “Not only will it protect you and your communities, but it may be exactly what you need to avoid a visit to the emergency room. We know that additional movement in the ER and urgent care centers might create an exposure risk to COVID-19.”

Vaccination trends against the flu don’t look promising, though, he said.

Initially, the public was being vaccinated in 2020 at a similar rate to last year, Ghaly said. But as the COVID-19 pandemic spread, flu vaccinations dropped dramatically in the spring. Only recently have the numbers ramped up.

“The fact that we are still fairly low relative to the peak in August, gives us concern and allows me to encourage families — and caregivers, parents — to use this time to schedule that critical appointment and catch up on vaccinations so we don’t lose some of those important gains California has made,” Ghaly said.


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