Despite improving COVID-19 numbers in Long Beach, Garcia says city will move with county on reopenings

Mayor Robert Garcia said Thursday that Long Beach would continue to reopen businesses on pace with Los Angeles County, despite the city’s coronavirus data showing slightly more improvement than the county over the past week.

Garcia’s comments during a coronavirus briefing comes after raw data provided by the city shows that over the past week, Long Beach’s case rate has been below the state threshold, which, if it holds, could allow the city to move into a less restrictive tier if it was not tied to the county.

The city has its own health department, but has moved as one with the county when it has come to reopening certain sectors of the economy as the pandemic enters its eighth month.

“Our numbers are no better than the whole county,” Garcia said. “Those numbers change day to day, but there’s not much of a difference.”

Garcia noted that he has heard the calls from the public to reopen more sectors of the economy, but said the reason why Long Beach was doing so well in reducing the spread of transmission was due to the limited openings in the city. Garcia did say that the city’s health department on Friday would be releasing new guidelines for personal care and tattoo shops, two sectors that state officials announced earlier this week could open.

“We’re doing better because of the limits of what is actually open,” Garcia said. “Our positivity rate and community transmission is low because we are being slow and cautious and steady.”

City officials clarified Thursday evening that Long Beach cannot separate from the county when it comes to the pace of reopenings.

“As we start to see numbers related to COVID-19 improve, there have been a lot of questions on whether Long Beach can move ahead of the County tier level if our numbers alone are better than the County. The answer is no,” Kelly Colopy, the city’s director of Health and Human Services, said in a statement. “Our ability to move forward to a less restrictive tier is dependent on our numbers combined with the County numbers and Pasadena.”

The county is currently locked in the most restrictive “Purple” tier due to its case rate of 7.6 per 100,000 residents. The figures shared during the briefing showed Long Beach with the same rate, but the numbers were only compiled through Oct. 20.

If Long Beach wasn’t tied to the county’s figures, maintaining those marks could land it in the “red” tier due. On Wednesday, the city’s positivity rate was 2.8%, and reported 6.4 cases per 100,000 residents; the county, meanwhile has a seven-day average 3.4% positivity rate and 7.6 cases per 100,000 residents.

Cities deemed to be in the red tier could begin to open restaurants and gyms with limited capacity, and could even open schools for in-person attendance after maintaining red status for at least two weeks.

Some elected leaders, meanwhile, are questioning whether there is a legal avenue for the city to break with the county in an effort to reopen its businesses sooner.

On Tuesday, Councilwoman Suzie Price, who represents the Belmont Shore area, asked for a report back to the council clarifying the elected body’s role going forward regarding decision making in this area.

Price, who, in addition to working as a prosecutor in the Orange County District Attorney’s Office owns a personal care business with her husband, said it’s become increasingly difficult to explain to small business owners who have remained closed throughout the pandemic why the city can’t act to speed up their reopening.

“It’s a complete slap in the face to small businesses to see some of the sectors that are open while their’s remain closed,” Price said.

Price and her husband opened a Lash Lounge franchise in 2018 in Belmont Shore. The business falls into the personal care category that state officials announced Tuesday could reopen even in counties under the most restrictive “Purple” tier of the state’s reopening plan.

Several gym owners in Price’s district came forward to share their frustrations at Tuesday night’s council meeting, with some claiming they’re losing business to other gyms located a few miles east where cities in Orange County have been given the green light to reopen gyms.

Price is hopeful that a report back to the council can clarify what, if anything, the City Council can do in the future if the city continues to perform better than the county in virus transmission.

“It’s time for the council to weigh in,” Price said. “What that looks like, I don’t know, but I can’t continue to shrug my shoulders and say ‘I don’t know.’”

Editor’s note: This story has been updated with additional information from the city related to the pace of reopenings.

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Jason Ruiz covers City Hall and politics for the Long Beach Post.