Long Beach in partnership with Los Angeles County has applied with the state to fast-track reopening its economy, paving the way for barbershops, beauty salons and dine-in service at restaurants to possibly reopen by this weekend, officials said Wednesday.
Though Long Beach and LA County had both been slated for slower reopening as the region has been hit harder by the coronavirus pandemic, Mayor Robert Garcia in a news conference Wednesday said local health officials are now confident that the city can move forward when combining its data with the county.
“We are very optimistic that combined we meet all the criteria that is required by the state to move forward,” he said.
Garcia said the city could hear back within the next two days on whether the state has approved its application to move into the next phase.
If approved, the city could begin to reopen hair salons, barbershops and restaurants for dine-in service at a lower capacity by this weekend, he said. The phase would not apply to other grooming services, such as nail salons, in line with the state order.
However, the city would also likely be fast-tracked for future phases of reopening, Garcia said.
The announcement comes as the city on Wednesday saw 6 more deaths from the virus for a total of 81 deaths and 1,666 positive cases. Of the 81 deaths, 62 are connected to long-term care facilities. The number of hospitalizations has remained relatively steady with 67.
Garcia said the city applied the first day possible, when health officials believed the city had met the state’s indicators. Garcia said the city was especially encouraged by the rate of positive cases per number of people being tested. As of Wednesday, the number had dropped from 8.6% down to 6.3%, which is bellow the state’s threshold.
Also on Wednesday, the city announced reopening of houses of worship, offices (telecommuting still encouraged) and in-store shopping for small retailers, in accordance with the state and county guidelines. The city, starting this weekend, will open coronavirus testing for anyone who wants to get a test. Previously testing was only available to those with symptoms and essential workers without symptoms.
Long Beach, which has its own health department, had originally been concerned about being lumped in with LA County for key coronavirus benchmarks. But Garcia said the city can now benefit from other benchmarks where the county is stronger, while the county can benefit from areas where Long Beach has shown better numbers.
For example, Long Beach has a robust contract tracing system, which makes for a stronger application with the state.
Garcia said the city did not move to apply any sooner than Wednesday because the application likely would have been rejected.
But as of this morning, he said, he’s confident the application will be approved.
“The timing has been just right,” he said.
Gov. Gavin Newsom’s plans for the next phases for California’s reopening has left some health officials concerned that the state is moving too quickly.
In less than 10 days, Newsom has announced rules allowing 47 of the state’s 58 counties to reopen restaurants and malls, religious services and, as of Tuesday, hair salons. He said Wednesday that gyms could be open within weeks. All must be done with modifications.
The governor has left all of the reopening decisions to local officials, laying out goals counties should hit on testing, tracing and caseloads. But the rapid relaxation has raised concern from some health experts and lawmakers given that it can take two to three weeks for a new outbreak to show up in the data.
David Relman, a microbiologist and immunologist at Stanford Medicine, said the criteria around testing and tracing is reasonable, but he questions whether counties are really able to implement the rules and respond to potential outbreaks.
“If something fails we have two problems: One is we’re not going to know for a little while and during that lag time things are worsening without us knowing it,” Relman said. “And the second thing is that you then have to be able to catch back up, to push back and restore stability.”
Spokespeople for Newsom and the state’s health department did not respond to requests for comment Wednesday.
The governor on Tuesday said he’s confident about moving forward because the state is now testing more than 60,000 people a day, has stable rates of positive cases, adequate protective equipment for workers who need it and roughly 3,000 contact tracers to track the spread. That’s still short of his goal of 10,000.
Still, he acknowledged: “We are entering into the unknown, the untested,” and that the state and counties must be prepared to tighten restrictions again if necessary.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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