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How to prevent virus spread as L.A. reopens outdoor restaurant dining, allows more gatherings

An overhead aerial view shows people walking, outdoor restaurant dining tables, umbrellas and a fountain.
People dine outdoors on Main Street in Huntington Beach on Tuesday.
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

With coronavirus cases finally on the decline in California, officials are once again allowing parts of the economy to reopen.

That includes hard-hit Los Angeles County, where officials have relaxed a slew of local restrictions in light of the state rescinding a regional stay-at-home order covering Southern California.

Perhaps the biggest change will come Friday, when L.A. County restaurants can resume offering outdoor dining for the first time in more than two months.

Despite the promising signs of progress, though, experts stress that it’s far from business as usual in the region — and that staving off another catastrophic coronavirus surge will take diligence and vigilance from proprietors and the public alike.

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“We have to stay committed to seeing a continued decline in our cases in order for us to feel comfortable that we’re slowing the spread,” L.A. County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said this week.

Scientists thought the U.K. variant was more transmissible, but evidence suggests those who have the virus are also more likely to die from it, Dr. Anthony Fauci says.

California’s most populous county knows all too well how quickly COVID-19 can rage out of control. The confirmed presence of new, potentially more infectious viral variants, she added, should motivate Angelenos to do everything necessary to ward off yet another wave.

“We need to do everything possible to avoid that,” Ferrer said. “The very same protections that we take for the virus that currently is dominant are the protections we’re going to need to take if we have a more infectious mutated variant.”

L.A. County Health Services Director Dr. Christina Ghaly said Monday that, despite the recent improvements, progress remained fragile.

“The gradual reopening of the economy is very important. But we need to rely on everyone making community-focused decisions for how we conduct ourselves when outside of our homes,” Ghaly said. “Please wear a mask. Please limit and be careful when interacting with those outside of your household.”

With strict limits on indoor commerce, some businesses bent or broke public health rules to serve their customers. Owners say they had little choice.

Here’s a rundown of the recent and forthcoming changes to businesses and activities in L.A. County:

Changes that went into effect Monday


• Hair salons and nail salons and other personal care services can reopen at up to 25% capacity.

• Malls, shopping centers and nonessential retail are allowed to open at 25% capacity, up from 20% capacity under the previous order. Food courts and common areas remain closed.

• Hotels are allowed to offer rooms for tourism; previously, hotels were only allowed to rent rooms for essential reasons.

• Outdoor miniature golf, go-karts and batting cages can reopen at 50% capacity; previously, all activities at family entertainment centers were closed.

• Outdoor card rooms can reopen at 50% capacity.

• Private gatherings can again be held outdoors among members of no more than three households, with up to a total of 15 people. People from different households should remain at least six feet from one another, and masks should be worn unless the wearers are actively eating and drinking. Most outdoor gatherings were banned in an earlier order, with exceptions for religious services and political demonstrations.

• Museums, zoos and aquariums can reopen outdoors at 50% capacity; previously, those venues were ordered shut.

Changes that go into effect Friday


• Restaurants, wineries and breweries that serve meals can begin to offer outdoor dining. County officials will impose some additional safety modifications.

• Nonessential businesses that had been ordered to close nightly from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. can reopen during those hours.

In the wake of the state lifting its stay-at-home orders, county officials say they will allow for the reopening of outdoor dining later this week.

Caveats


Officials say it remains essential to remain at home as much as possible and to continue to take precautions. Here are some of safeguards officials have encouraged:

• If you’re going to work or to buy groceries, try never to remove your face covering when near others.

• Avoid eating or drinking with anyone not in your household.

• Wash or sanitize your hands every hour if you’re around others.

• Take a break from shopping.

• Don’t go to any gatherings with people outside your household.

• Exercise by yourself or only with others from your household.

• People who live with elderly residents or with residents who have an underlying medical condition and must go out of their households should wear a mask at home.

• People should bring sanitizing wipes to disinfect their cellphones, car keys, work stations and door handles — anything they might touch that others also have touched.

New strains

After a terrible two months, COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations are declining in L.A. County.

But at least two strains of the coronavirus in California have officials concerned.

One of them, the B.1.1.7 variant first identified in Britain, is believed to be more transmissible and, according to new data, may be possibly more deadly, and has been detected in L.A., San Diego and San Bernardino counties.

A homegrown strain in California, B.1.426, has also spread quite rapidly in recent weeks, and officials are investigating whether it’s partly responsible for California’s devastating surge.

Even with cases declining and administration of vaccines ongoing, officials said that the personal decisions residents and businesses made to protect themselves, their loved ones and their patrons would still play the largest role in shaping how the COVID-19 pandemic plays out in the months ahead.

“While these current trends are encouraging, and we’re pleased and we’re grateful for all the work people have done to make sure that we get here … we do need to move through the next few weeks with a lot of caution,” Ferrer told the county Board of Supervisors on Tuesday. “All of us know that, at many other points where we’ve been reopening our sectors, we in fact have seen a bump up in our cases. We can’t really afford that.”


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