Los Angeles, Orange counties ease COVID-19 restrictions as both enter California's red tier

california restaurant pandemic
Posted at 6:31 AM, Mar 15, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-15 09:40:42-04

LOS ANGELES (CNS) - Los Angeles and Orange county restaurants can again welcome customers indoors, and movie theaters and fitness centers are able to reopen, all at limited capacity, as both counties on Monday advanced to a less-restrictive tier in the state's Blueprint for a Safer Economy.

The move was confirmed Friday, when the state met the threshold of administering 2 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine in low-income communities across California that have been particularly hard hit by the pandemic.

When it met that threshold, the state eased the requirements for counties to advance through the four tiers of the blueprint, which governs business restrictions based on the spread of COVID-19. The new requirements allow Los Angeles and Orange counties to move out of the most restrictive purple tier and into the red tier.

Under red tier guidelines, indoor dining can resume at 25% of capacity. Restaurants will be required to have 8 feet of distance between all tables, which will be restricted to a maximum of six people from the same household. The rules also call for ventilation to be increased "to the maximum extent possible."

Restaurant servers are already required to wear a face mask and a face shield. With the new rules, the Department of Public Health "strongly recommends" that employees upgrade their face coverings, through the use of higher-grade N95 or KN95 masks, or a combination of double-masking and a face shield.

Wineries, breweries and distilleries can reopen for outdoor business only.

Health officials also strongly recommend -- but do not require -- that all employees be informed about and offered the chance to be vaccinated against COVID-19. Food service workers are already eligible to receive the shots.

Rules for other businesses that took effect at 12:01 a.m. Monday largely align with state guidance for the red tier:

-- museums, zoos and aquariums can open indoors at 25% of capacity
-- gyms and fitness centers can open indoors at 10% capacity, with required masking
-- movie theaters can open at 25% capacity with reserved seating to provide at least six feet of distance between patrons
-- retail and personal care businesses can increase indoor capacity to 50%
-- indoor shopping malls can reopen at 50%, with common areas remaining closed, but food courts can open at 25% capacity and in adherence with the other requirements for indoor restaurants

Moving to the red tier will also allow the reopening of theme parks as early as April 1 -- including Disneyland in Orange County and Universal Studios Hollywood in Los Angeles County -- at 15% of capacity, with in-state visitors only.

The rules also permit resumption of activities at institutes of higher education and reopening of in-person instruction for students in grades 7-12. Private indoor gatherings are also permitted for people from up to three different households, with masking and physical distancing. People who are vaccinated can gather in small groups indoors without masking or distancing.

In addition to Los Angeles and Orange counties, 11 other counties across the state were also cleared to move into the red tier thanks to the state reaching the vaccination milestone. Barring any reversal in case numbers, 13 more counties will move into the red tier when the state does its weekly update on Tuesday, including San Diego and Riverside counties, meaning the entirety of Southern California will be in red by the middle of next week.

Gov. Gavin Newsom's new guidelines will adjust the requirements again when the state reaches 4 million vaccinations in hard-hit communities. It was unclear how long that effort will take, but based on the current pace of vaccinations, it will likely take at least a month.

When the 4 million mark is reached, Los Angeles and Orange counties could -- barring a resurgence of cases -- quickly advance to the even less- restrictive orange tier of the economic-reopening blueprint. Such a move would lead to even further loosening of capacity restrictions and a reopening of bars with outdoor service only.