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L.A. County Prepares for Red Tier as COVID-19 Numbers Return to Pre-surge Levels

As of Tuesday, L.A. County remains in the purple tier. | Map courtesy of State of California

Los Angeles County has returned to daily case numbers that are at pre-surge levels and officials are preparing to possibly move to the red tier on the state’s reopening roadmap.

On Monday, the Los Angeles County Department of Public confirmed 13 new deaths and 880 cases of COVID-19. Though Monday’s death and case numbers represent an undercount associated with lag in weekend reporting, the seven-day average number of daily cases by episode date has continued to decrease, and as of Feb. 28 is 700.  

Last Friday, the state announced updates to the Blueprint for a Safer Economy. In addition to assessing county case rates, positivity rates and positivity rates in neighborhoods with the lowest scores in the Healthy Places Index, the state is now taking into consideration the number of vaccinations that have been administered in the lowest resourced neighborhoods statewide. Unlike the other three metrics, vaccination numbers will be calculated statewide and used to change the case rate thresholds for counties to move from one tier to another.

Once 2 million vaccine doses have been administered in the state to the communities with the lowest score in the Healthy Places Index, the threshold to move from the purple tier to the red tier will go from seven new cases per 100,000 people to 10 new cases per 100,000 people. To move to the orange tier, the threshold will remain at 4 cases per 100,000 people, and to move to the yellow tier, the threshold will remain at 1.

Once 4 million vaccine doses have been administered in the state to the communities with the lowest score in the Healthy Places Index, the threshold to move from the purple tier to the red tier will remain at 10 per 100,000 people, but the threshold will change for moving to the orange tier, from 4 new cases per 100,0000 residents to 6 cases per 100,000 people, and to move to the yellow tier, the threshold will change from 1 new case per 100,000 residents to 2 cases per 100,000 people.

The state anticipates administering 2 million doses to residents in hard hit communities by the end of the week. According to state data Tuesday morning, more than 1.89 million vaccine doses have been given to Californians living in areas with the least healthy community conditions. As of Tuesday, L.A. County had 6.9 new COVID-19 cases a day per 100,000 and a 5.2 adjusted case rate for tier assignment.

“Our understanding is that within 48 hours of the state announcing the vaccine trigger has been met, L.A. County — along with other counties with qualifying case rates — would be moved into the red tier and permitted to reopen for additional activities,” explained Dr. Barbara Ferrer, director of Public Health.

However, the county can still choose to adopt stricter guidelines than the ones prescribed in the red tier. The Board of Supervisors and Public Health Department are currently discussing modifications to the health officer order.

“As we plan to move into the red tier, where additional reopenings will be permitted, we’re looking closely at the science to understand what practices can help reduce community transmission of COVID-19,” Ferrer explained. 

The state also announced plans to permit the reopening of outdoor sporting events, live outdoor concerts and theme parks, starting on April 1. Starting April 1, outdoor sporting events and outdoor live concerts will be permitted with limited capacity and infection control modifications.

For counties in the purple tier, capacity at these outdoor events will be limited to 100 people or less, reservations will be required, and concessions will not be allowed. Only people who live in the region where the event is taking place will be permitted to attend. Once in the red tier, these outdoor events can open at 20% capacity, limited to in-state visitors only; concessions will be allowed only while seated. As counties move into less restrictive tiers, the allowed capacity will increase.

L.A. County Public Health is also preparing for schools to be permitted, in the red tier, to open for on-site learning for seventh through 12th grade. As schools prepare for these students, they must have an updated State COVID-19 Safety Plan (CSP), including the Cal/OSHA COVID-19 Prevention Program and the California Department of Public Health COVID-19 School Guidance Checklist posted to the school or district website no less than five days before their planned opening date. Schools will also have to file an updated L.A. County Reopening Survey and an updated L.A. County Reopening Protocol for kindergarten through 12 schools at least five days before the proposed reopening date for grades 7 through 12. More information will be available online.

“We are at a point in the pandemic where we have a great deal of optimism. We are making progress on vaccinating our residents, cases, hospitalizations and deaths are decreasing, and we are likely moving into a less restrictive tier,” Ferrer said in a statement. “In order for us to maintain progress, we will need to continue making slowing transmission a central part of our day-to-day lives. That means choosing not to travel and choosing not to gather with large numbers of people we do not live with. It also means wearing a mask and keeping distance whenever we are outside of our home and around others.”

As of Monday, more than 2,415,000 doses of vaccine have been administered across the county. Of those vaccinated, 814,593 people have received second doses. Currently, people eligible for the vaccine include healthcare workers, residents and staff at long-term care facilities, people 65 or older, education and childcare workers, food and agriculture workers, and emergency service workers and law enforcement.

As of last week, 58% of L.A. County residents 65 and older had received at least one dose of the vaccine and 30% received both doses. Reaching homebound seniors remains a concern for officials who are working with fire departments and health plans to identify and vaccinate them. 

There are over 375 vaccination sites receiving a portion of the 312,690 total doses allocated to the county for this week. This allocation includes 54,000 doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. The county’s network of vaccination sites has the capacity for 626,000 appointment slots this week, even with the increased doses, the county only has enough doses for about 312,000 appointments. Large capacity vaccination sites alone could be providing 195,000 additional doses this week if there was sufficient supply.

March 9, 2021

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