LOS ANGELES (CNS) — Los Angeles County was officially in the less restrictive orange tier of the state's COVID-19 business-reopening blueprint Wednesday — but it will wait until Monday before easing economic restrictions, and some rules will be stricter than state guidelines. 

What You Need To Know

  • While L.A. County has officially moved into the orange tier, it will maintain more restrictive red-tier-level rules until 12:01 a.m. Monday

  • Asked about the delay, Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said the county is applying the lessons it has learned from past reopenings, and also from watching the experiences of other jurisdictions

  • While the county is largely aligning with state guidelines for the orange tier, it will have some stricter requirements

  • The county reported 648 COVID-19 cases and 40 deaths on Wednesday

The move to orange means more capacity at retail stores, movie theaters, restaurants, and other attractions, along with an array of other adjustments, including the reopening — outdoors only — of bars that don't serve food.

But while the county has officially moved into the orange tier, it will maintain more restrictive red-tier-level rules until 12:01 a.m. Monday.

"This allows the county to follow the state guidelines and wait until we've completed three weeks in the red tier to be sure that our case numbers do not rise this third week since our earlier reopenings," Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said Tuesday.

The state's Blueprint for a Safer Economy normally requires counties to remain in a tier for at least three weeks before advancing to a less restrictive level, but it inexplicably waived that requirement for both Los Angeles and Orange counties, allowing both to move to the orange tier on Wednesday. Unlike Los Angeles, Orange County plans to implement orange-tier guidelines on Wednesday.

Asked about the delay Wednesday, Ferrer said the county is applying the lessons it has learned from past re-openings, and also from watching the experiences of other jurisdictions.

"We've learned from both our past and the pasts of others in other locations that a massive reopening without businesses being well prepared, without the public being well prepared and without us adding as many layers of protection as we can in modifying what happens at sites that are reopening, we can create situations where there's just too much spread again," Ferrer said. "So I wouldn't say we're going really slowly because we're moving along, I think, at a good rate in terms of our reopenings, but we're being careful. And we're taking time to work with our businesses, to work with consumers and customers so they understand how to really enjoy some of the new activities but continue to do so while taking a lot of safety precautions." 

Ferrer said a revised Health Officer Order will be posted on Friday so business owners will be aware of all the new guidelines and have the weekend to adjust their operations accordingly. While the county is largely aligning with state guidelines for the orange tier, it will have some stricter requirements.

Most notably, bars will be limited to outdoor table service only, operating only from 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m., with a required 8-foot distance between outdoor tables. Although state guidelines allow a lifting of all capacity restrictions on retail establishments in the orange tier, Los Angeles County will impose a 75% limit for grocery stores and other retail operations, while "strongly" recommending they remain at 50% capacity until April 15 to allow time for more workers to get vaccinated.

In accordance with state guidelines, the county will raise the capacity limit from 25% to 50% for movie theaters, churches, museums, zoos, aquariums, and restaurants. Fitness center capacity will be increased from 10% to 25%. Card rooms and family entertainment centers can resume indoor operations at 25% capacity.

The move also allows Dodger Stadium to increase fan capacity to 33%, up from the current 20%, while theme parks can expand capacity to 25%, up from 15%.

Breweries and wineries will be able to offer indoor service at 25% capacity. Breweries, wineries and bars will all be allowed to turn on their television sets outdoors, but live entertainment remains prohibited.

It was unclear if the county will continue to ban restaurants from turning on their television sets — a requirement imposed to prevent gatherings of sports fans.

The city of 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.

The city of Pasadena, which also has its own health department, plans to follow the county's lead and wait until Monday before changing its restrictions.

Despite the move to the orange tier, health officials are continuing to preach vigilance, warning that cases have been rising in other states and countries. They said the continued emergence of COVID-19 variants that can spread more easily from person to person could lead to another surge in cases.

Ferrer noted Wednesday that 30 U.S. states and territories are seeing increases in cases, and while she understands the desire of people to move beyond the pandemic, recent scenes of people flocking to beaches and Tuesday night's celebration by UCLA students following the university's NCAA tournament victory could lead to another surge. 

"Clearly you know when you see overcrowding at beaches, you see events like we saw last night with students having huge parties and none of them really looked like wearing their masks, you created a lot of risk — risk for yourself, but unfortunately, risk for a lot of other people," she said. "So these poor choices that people are making right now don't bode well for anybody in this country, they don't bode well for us here in L.A. County. They certainly don't bode well for residents in the rest of the country where, you know, it seems to be more common for some folks to not realize how important it is at this point in time to continue to take protections that still will save lives."

Vaccine eligibility will expand Thursday to all residents aged 50 and over, but with vaccine supplies still relatively limited, getting an appointment could prove difficult. Eligibility will expand to everyone aged 16 and up on April 15.

The county on Wednesday reported another 40 COVID-19 deaths, lifting the cumulative countywide total to 23,143.

Another 648 cases were also reported, while Long Beach added 49 and Pasadena three, giving the county a cumulative total from throughout the pandemic of 1,219,614.

According to state figures, there were 652 people hospitalized in the county due to COVID-19, an increase from 638 on Tuesday. There were 166 people in intensive care as of Wednesday, up from 158 Tuesday.