County, Long Beach very close to meeting COVID-19 metrics for more businesses, schools to reopen

Los Angeles County is getting closer to being able to allow more businesses and schools to reopen and letting restaurants serve customers indoors, according to numbers released today by the state.

On Tuesday, the state reported an adjusted case rate for the county of 7.2 cases per 100,000 residents; that number must fall below 7 in order to move to a less-restrictive tier.

At 3.5%, the county’s positivity rate, however, is low enough to qualify for more reopenings—but the county must meet both metrics for two consecutive weeks.

Even though it has its own health department, Long Beach is counted with Los Angeles County in the state’s COVID-19 metrics.

If the county is able to move out of the purple tier and into the less-restrictive red tier, local health officials will have discretion whether to allow more businesses to reopen for indoor activities, including aquariums, movie theaters and restaurants, which would all be limited to 25% capacity.

Indoor retailers would also be allowed to open at 50% of capacity and fitness centers could resume indoor activities at 10% of capacity.

The city and county would also be allowed to reopen middle and high schools, with safety precautions. Long Beach Unified has a targeted reopening date of April 20 for middle schools, and a reopening for high schools on April 19 for seniors and April 26 for grades 9 through 11.

Elementary schools, meanwhile, are already allowed to reopen under state rules, with the LBUSD planning to reopen those campuses on March 29.

Infection rates and hospitalizations have plummeted over the past four weeks as the county and state move beyond a winter surge that nearly overwhelmed local hospitals.

Long Beach on Monday reported 71 new cases, down significantly from early January, when the city was routinely reporting more than 600 new cases per day.

LBSUD has also reported a significant drop in cases on campuses: Just 19 cases reported in February compared to 78 cases in January.

Even with campuses mostly closed, about 1,600 students have been on campus for preschool or daycare programs, and a significant number of employees have been working in person, including many teachers who’ve chosen to do virtual schooling from their classroom.

Los Angeles County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer in a news conference on Monday noted that the county’s roughly 3% positive case rate over the past week is the lowest it has been since the start of the pandemic, which is a positive early sign that the vaccine may be working.

The number is a stark drop from the beginning of January, when about 20% of those who were tested were positive.

Ferrer was also optimistic over the one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which could be available in Los Angeles County as early as this week.

Long Beach Health Department Director Kelly Colopy said Long Beach is expected to receive the Johnson & Johnson vaccine as soon as the state makes it available.

Long Beach’s positive case rate has dropped to 3.6%, down from 17.2% on Jan. 11. The lowest throughout the pandemic was 2.9% in the weeks before the fall and winter surge.

“We believe the drop is based on a mix of all we have put into place including the orders, increased community education and adherence to masking protocols, distancing, and disinfecting practices,” Colopy said, in a statement. “It’s still a bit early to tell about the impact of the vaccine, particularly because the surge in case rates has been driven by younger people in our city and many have not yet been eligible for the vaccine.”

On Tuesday, seven counties moved to a less restrictive tier, including El Dorado, Lassen, Modoc, Napa, San Francisco, San Luis Obispo and Santa Clara. No counties moved to a more restrictive tier.

Forty counties remain in the purple tier, where cases are still widespread; 16 are in the red, where cases are considered “substantial;” and two are in the orange for moderate case rates.

Staff writers Kelly Puente and Mike Guardasbacio contributed to this report.

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Melissa has been a journalist for over two decades, starting her career as a reporter covering health and religion and moving into local news. She has worked as an editor for eight years, including seven years at the Press Telegram before joining the Long Beach Post in June 2018. She also serves as a part-time lecturer at Cal State Long Beach where she teaches multimedia journalism and writing.
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