Despite making strides toward increased testing and hospital capacity, Long Beach likely won’t be able to speed through a phase to quickly reopen businesses as other rural parts of the state may be able to accomplish, officials said Tuesday.

The city hasn’t even decided whether it’s ready to start letting less risky activity such as curbside pickup for retailers or reopening beaches, as the governor has started laying plans for allowing cities to do. Allowing the next stage of reopening, such as dine-in service at restaurants, will depend on meeting a handful of indicators including, most notably, reducing the number of COVID-19 deaths to near zero.

In a lengthy presentation to the City Council Tuesday night, health officials said Long Beach has made strides to increase testing and hospital capacity—it’s met its goals in both those areas—and its new daily case rate is at a level health officials think is manageable, despite just recording the worst week yet for newly confirmed cases. But Long Beach still lags in the necessary staffing to conduct contact tracing and the ability to isolate patients within 24 hours of a positive test, all required by Gov. Gavin Newsom’s guidelines for regions seeking to more broadly reopen local economies.

But more importantly, the city is still seeing multiple coronavirus-related deaths over short periods of time. To move forward, health officials said, the city must go at least two weeks with only one death. If there are two COVID-19 fatalities within that 14-day span, the clock will reset.

“We had a death reported last night so we’re still 14 days out if we had no more deaths over the next 14 days, and I think there’s a lot of conversation about what that looks like with our long-term care facilities,” said Kelly Colopy, the city’s director of health and human services, during the presentation to the City Council.

Kelly Colopy, Director of Health and Human Service, at a press conference as Long Beach city officials give updates related to COVID-19 issues In Long Beach Monday, March 16, 2020. Photo by Thomas R. Cordova.

Long Beach has averaged about one death per day since reporting its first COVID-19 fatality on March 23. As of Monday, the city had reported 38 total virus-related deaths with the overwhelming majority (31) being concentrated in the city’s long-term care facilities.

Nineteen facilities across the city have accounted for about one-third of Long Beach’s positive cases. Only eight of those facilities have gone 14 days without a new positive COVID-19 case.

If the city gets to a point where deaths taper off, it’s hired additional contact tracers and expanded its ability to quarantine sick persons unable to safely isolate themselves, Long Beach could be in a position to submit plans to the state to speed up its economic restart much like some other less-affected counties already have.

Winning approval for such a plan could mean reopening offices, shopping malls and restaurants if the city meets additional state guidance that’s expected to be released later this week.

Several council members pushed to have Long Beach do this as quickly as possible even if it means leaving its harder-hit neighbors behind. For the past two months, Long Beach has implemented rules in virtual lock-step with Los Angeles County. But because Long Beach is one of only three cities in the state with its own health department, it has the authority to buck LA County’s rules.

“We pay for our own health department and we have our own data because we are our own unique organization, so let’s not be in a rush to follow the county or what they’re doing,” Councilwoman Stacy Mungo said. “Let’s stand on our own data and our own circumstances and use that data to make good decisions.”

As a whole, LA County has seen more COVID-19 cases, with about 14 deaths per 100,000 residents. Long Beach is averaging half as many deaths per-capita.

Some changes to the stay-at-home rules could be announced by May 15, which marks the expiration of the current stay at home order. A number of officials hinting that alterations could include changes to residents’ abilities to access beaches and parks. The city is expected to announce plans for which retail businesses will be able to operate in the coming days. The state has said it will allow some smaller shops to open for curbside pickup only.

“It’s really over the course of the next couple days that we’re going to hear more about what our local process is like,” Mayor Robert Garcia said. “But we are looking forward to those adjustments for outdoor recreation. People are really ready to enjoy our community and our outdoors.”

Jason Ruiz covers City Hall and politics for the Long Beach Post. Reach him at [email protected] or @JasonRuiz_LB on Twitter.