Mark Ghaly, head of California’s Health and Human Services Agency, said during a weekly update on Tuesday that all personal-care businesses, from hair salons and spas to tattoo and piercing parlors, could reopen throughout the state under precautionary guidelines to limit the risk of transmission of the virus, like social distancing and mask wearing. It’s the first time since March that such businesses have been allowed to reopen indoors statewide. The move comes even as at least 20 other U.S. states are seeing rapid increases in new cases.
“We will likely see some relative increase in cases,” Ghaly said, citing the upcoming colder weather and holiday season, “but we’re hoping it will stay relatively low.
“Compared to other parts of the nation and globe, our approach is helping us now,” he added.
But Los Angeles, the most populous county in California with more than 10 million people, is still operating most businesses on a more restrictive level than much of California. L.A. continues to see close to 1,000 new coronavirus cases a day.
In the state’s relatively new tiered system, which applies one of four colors to each county based on their rate of new COVID-19 cases and positivity rate, L.A. has been unable to get out of the most restrictive tier of purple, representing “widespread” transmission and mandating that nearly all indoor operations of nonessential businesses be closed.
Tattoo parlors are still closed in the county, as are indoor operations of all restaurants and bars, movie theaters and museums, convention centers and theme parks. Indoor malls can only operate at 25 percent capacity as of earlier this month and after much agitation by industry groups. Other smaller types of retail have been allowed to operate indoors with such restrictions for months, but have not been allowed to increase capacity. Nail and hair salons in L.A. have been allowed to open for several weeks, but also at only 25 percent capacity indoors. That’s roughly three people for a salon that has seats for 15.
“Many large counties have been able to move from purple to red,” Ghaly, a resident of L.A., said, referencing a less-restrictive tier. “L.A. met the criteria for red last week, but they missed it this week. It may be on the road to meeting it again very soon.”
Under the state rules allowing regions to reopen more fully, L.A. county needs two consecutive weeks of less than seven new COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people and a positivity rate from testing of less than 8 percent to get to the red tier, which would allow more flexibility in reopening efforts. The positivity rate is adjusted by population. While California’s positivity rate is at 3.3 percent, it reported 923 new cases on Monday. California as a whole reported an average of 3,300 cases a day with a 2.8 percent positivity rate.
Pressed by reporters during the call on whether L.A. could ever get below the threshold required to loosen restrictions, considering its population, Ghaly said, “It really is about this slow and stringent approach.” He stressed that he doesn’t want to “be back in the exact same place we were during the summer.”
By late July, a few weeks after California and L.A. suddenly lifted restrictions on restaurants, bars and retail, along with religious services and other activities and businesses, there was such a surge in cases that a second lockdown was seriously considered. That didn’t come to pass, but since then California and L.A. county have been unapologetically vigilant in reopening plans and procedures.
Still, there are counties that have just moved from the red tier, representing “substantial” transmission, to orange, representing “moderate” transmission. The major regions of Orange County and San Francisco County both just moved into orange, meaning more businesses are fully open, with modifications like social distancing in place.
During a weekly update on Monday, Barbara Ferrer, head of the L.A. County Department of Health, attributed L.A.’s still too-high numbers to community transmission, meaning people in gatherings giving it to one another.
“Where we’re still struggling is around gatherings,” Ferrer said. “There’s still people who don’t feel like they need to take precautions for themselves. People who still don’t understand most of the precautions you’re taking are for the sake of other people.”
In order to get L.A. businesses to a less restrictive tier of operations, Ferrar said it will take “a concerted effort” by people, businesses and workplaces, beyond what is already occurring in the county.
“It’s going to take all of us,” she said.
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