Officials say no turning back on reopening even as coronavirus cases rise
California officials remain confident about the rapid reopening of the economy even as coronavirus deaths and new cases continue to rise, saying they have no plans now to slow the efforts.
They said they expected cases to tick upward as businesses reopened but stressed the overall metrics still support the reopening strategy, which took another major step forward on Wednesday.
Los Angeles County announced that gyms and fitness facilities, pro-league arenas without audiences, day camps, museums, galleries, zoos, aquariums, campgrounds, outdoor recreational areas and hotels for leisure travel will be allowed to reopen Friday.
Nail salons, tattoo shops, bars and wineries, movie theaters, live performance theaters, entertainment centers, concert halls and venues, stadiums, arenas, gaming facilities, theme parks and festivals are still closed in the county.
The further reopening comes as 1,275 new cases and an additional 61 deaths linked to COVID-19 were reported by L.A. County public health officials.
Despite lifted restrictions, parties, gatherings and mixing of households are still not allowed.
“No, we are completely not out of the woods, we are still in in the middle of the woods and we still have a lot of risk,” Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said. “I know how desperate people are to get be able to get back to events but that is not in our health officer order nor is it in the state health officer order.”
On Tuesday, for the second day in a row, the state reported more than 3,000 cases, bringing the total number of infections to over 137,000. The bulk of cases are still in L.A County.
Despite the upward trajectory of cases and a growing death toll, there are no plans to reverse course, officials said.
“As we phase in, in a responsible way, a reopening of the economy, we’ve made it abundantly clear that we anticipate an increase in the total number of positive cases,” Gov. Gavin Newsom said Tuesday while speaking with Oakland community leaders.
“But we’ve also made it abundantly clear the concurrent recognition and commitment that we are in a substantially different place than we were 90 days ago. We have hundreds of millions of masks now in our possession.”
The governor pointed to the state’s increased testing ability, hospital capacity and an available supply of ventilators — key metrics in the decision to ease statewide modifications — as reasoning for pressing ahead.
The coronavirus arrived in Northern California not only from people who brought it in from other states but from international travelers from many places.
Ten counties — Fresno, Imperial, Kings, Tulare, San Bernardino, San Joaquin, Los Angeles, Santa Clara, Sacramento and Ventura — are currently being monitored for an increase in the number of transmissions or hospitalizations. A spike in numbers has been linked to outbreaks in jails, prisons and skilled nursing facilities as well as informal and formal gatherings over the past two weeks, according to the California Department of Public Health.
As restrictions have been lifted after nearly three months of quarantine, personal reunions have begun, despite an ongoing prohibition of gatherings beyond political protests or worship services.
In Sacramento County, a surge in hospitalizations over the past weekend were linked to members of the same household who gathered recently for birthday parties and a funeral. Dr. Olivia Kasirye, the county’s health officer, said many people think “we’re out of the woods,” despite the reality.
Ventura County, among the first to ease coronavirus restrictions in Southern California, saw a similar spike in hospitalizations over the weekend, from 21 Friday to 43 on Monday. There are currently 39 individuals who are hospitalized, 12 of whom are in intensive care.
The statewide surge in the number of COVID-19 cases does not include any potential spread from protests in the aftermath of George Floyd’s death, as the incubation period for the virus can take up to 14 days. But officials fear the demonstrations will lead to another spike in case count.
While many at the protests have worn face coverings, it is near impossible to keep a six-foot distance in the crowds. Officials are encouraging anyone who participated to get tested and to self-quarantine if they were potentially exposed to someone who is infected.
Though local officials point to Gov. Gavin Newsom’s guidelines as part of the reason they felt it was the right time to reopen their counties, time will tell if the pace is too fast.
State officials are working with county leaders to assess whether their jurisdictions are ready to move further into the reopening stage.
In L.A. County, the state’s most populous, officials are monitoring the positivity rate to spot signs of an increase in transmission. Additionally, state officials are providing more resources and personal protective equipment to the county’s 235 skilled nursing facilities, where the testing of staff and residents has become a priority after prior scrutiny.
Times staff writer Taryn Luna contributed to this report.
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