LOS ANGELES (CNS) - Los Angeles County eased its coronavirus restrictions Monday, joining Orange County in enacting looser regulations now that both are in the orange tier of the state's monitoring system.
That means movie theaters, restaurants, churches, museums, zoos and aquariums can go from 25% to 50% of capacity, while gyms are increased from 10% to 25%. Card rooms and family entertainment centers can resume indoor operations at 25% of capacity.
The county will still enforce certain rules that are more strict than what the state allows. Most notably, bars that don't serve food -- which are being permitted to reopen outdoors only -- are able to operate only from 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m., with a required 8-foot distance between outdoor tables.
And while state guidelines allow a lifting of all capacity restrictions on retail establishments in the orange tier, Los Angeles County is imposing a 75% limit for grocery stores and other retail operations, while "strongly" recommending they remain at 50% of capacity until April 15 to allow time for more workers to get vaccinated.
The county's metrics continued to trend in the right direction Sunday, as 535 new cases of COVID-19 and just three additional deaths were reported, although health officials said the lower number of deaths may reflect reporting delays over the weekend.
The number of coronavirus patients in county hospitals ticked up from 590 on Saturday to 591, according to state figures. The number of those patients in intensive care dropped from 158 to 151.
Sunday's numbers brought the county's totals to 1,222,114 cases and 23,275 fatalities since the pandemic began, according to the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health.
The health department also continues tracking cases of multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children (MIS-C), and has identified 158 children with MIS-C in L.A. County, including one child death, the department said Saturday. All 158 were hospitalized and 40% of the children were treated in the ICU.
MIS-C is a serious inflammatory condition associated with COVID-19 that affects children under 21 years old. Symptoms include fever that does not go away and inflamed body parts, including the heart, lungs, kidneys, brain, skin, eyes, or gastrointestinal organs.
Amid declining overall COVID-19 numbers, county health officials continue to urge residents to take precautions, acknowledging what could be seen as mixed messaging about the state of the pandemic.
"The declining number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 is a very encouraging trend and reflects the significant decrease in community transmission we experienced a few weeks back," Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said Saturday.
"We will continue to make progress slowing transmission, preventing suffering and saving lives when we all do our part to keep each other safe by following the rules and getting vaccinated when it is our turn. If you have COVID-19 symptoms, recently traveled out of state, were in crowds in close proximity to unmasked individuals, or attended large gatherings, please get tested. Don't take a chance on spreading this virus to others."
Los Angeles County officially entered the orange tier of the state's Blueprint for a Safer Economy on Wednesday. Loosened business restrictions that come with that move took effect at 12:01 a.m. Monday. But Dr. Muntu Davis, the county's chief health officer, is still preaching the need for caution.
"Our numbers have improved dramatically but we cannot let up," he said. "With the beautiful weather, the spring holidays ... and baseball season starting, there are plenty of reasons to get together with friends. We ask that you avoid taking unnecessary risk, avoid large gatherings and wear your mask when you're in public and around others and please continue washing your hands."
Davis said rules for theme parks and outdoor live event venues -- such as Dodger Stadium -- went into effect Thursday. Those rules allowed theme parks to open at 25% of capacity, and outdoor venues to open at 33% of capacity.
Breweries and wineries are now able to offer indoor service at 25% of capacity as of Monday. Breweries, wineries, bars and restaurants are allowed to turn on their television sets outdoors, but live entertainment remains prohibited.
Long Beach, which has its own health department, parted ways with the county and immediately moved to orange-tier rules on Wednesday. The city generally aligned with the state's guidelines, including the elimination of capacity limits at retail stores.
Pasadena, which also has its own health department, followed the county's lead and waited until Monday before changing its restrictions.
Californians age 50 and older became eligible for COVID-19 vaccinations on Thursday -- adding about 1.4 million Los Angeles County residents to the pool of people trying to get appointments. There are about 2 million people in the county in total in that group, but about 600,000 are believed to have previously been vaccinated as part of another eligible category.
On April 15, everyone aged 16 and up becomes eligible for the shots. That group includes an estimated 5 million people. The county's chief science officer, Dr. Paul Simon, said Friday that only about 16% of residents age 16-29 have been vaccinated already, and about 26% of those age 30-49, meaning there will be a major jump in demand for appointments on the 15th.
"We do urge patience among all out there who are understandably extremely eager to be vaccinated," he said.
For the second week in a row, the county this week is expected to set another record in terms of its vaccine allocation, with 397,430 doses expected. That includes 118,000 Johnson & Johnson single-shot doses.
Of the overall allotment, 72% will be used for first doses and 28% for second doses, Simon said.