Even looser COVID rules soon? Long Beach could enter the ‘orange tier’ in a matter of weeks

Yes, it’s only been two days since Long Beach reopened indoor dining and loosened other coronavirus rules after qualifying for the “red tier,” but the city and Los Angeles County could now be just weeks away from entering the state’s even looser “orange tier.”

Under the state’s reopening plan, known as the blueprint for a safer economy, counties can enter the orange tier—the second-least restrictive tier of rules—if they have testing positivity rates between 2% and 4.9% and if their adjusted case rates per 100,000 residents are between 1 and 3.9.

As of Tuesday, LA County had an adjusted case rate of 4.1 per 100,000 residents and a positivity rate of 2%. That means the case rate needs to decline by only 0.2 to qualify the county for the orange tier. Under the state’s rules, Long Beach is evaluated as part of LA County even though the city tracks its own stats separately.

So how quickly could Long Beach and LA get into the orange tier?

According to the state’s rules, a county has to remain in a given tier for three weeks while maintaining its metrics before moving to a less restrictive one. A county can only move one tier at a time even if its metrics would allow it to move into a less restrictive phase of reopening.

That means, even if case rates continue to decline, the soonest LA County could enter the orange tier is the week starting April 5.

What will the orange tier look like?

Long Beach’s health officer can always impose stricter rules than what the state does under its blueprint, so it’s unclear exactly what will be allowed and when if the city qualifies for looser restrictions, but a spokesperson for the city said it has more or less mirrored the state blueprint for reopening thus far.

According to the state’s rules, here’s what’s allowed under the orange tier:

  • Restaurants could expand indoor dining to 50% capacity or 200 people, whichever is less.
  • Indoor retail could open at full capacity with modifications.
  • Museums, zoos, aquariums and places of worship could open indoor facilities at 50% capacity. They currently can only operate at 25% indoor capacity.
  • Movie theaters would be able to double their indoor capacity to 50% or 200 people, whichever is less.
  • Breweries, wineries and distilleries that don’t offer food could operate indoors at 25% capacity.
  • Bars that don’t serve food would be allowed to open outdoors with modifications. Currently they must remain closed.
  • Gyms could expand from 10% to 25% capacity and could reopen indoor pools.
  • Offices could reopen but health officials would continue to encourage teleworking.
  • Sporting events would be able to increase capacity from 20% to 33% but would still be limited to in-state visitors and concessions would be limited to in-seat sales. If all guests are tested for COVID-19 or show proof of vaccination capacity limits would be pushed to 67%.
  • Amusement parks would be able to increase capacity from 15% to 25% for both outdoor and indoor attractions but would still be limited to in-state visitors.
What happens if our case rate doesn’t decline?

It’s not clear yet how the looser red tier rules will affect the spread of coronavirus locally, but even if case rates remain steady, LA County has another route to the orange tier.

Last week the state eclipsed two million doses of vaccine being administered to targeted communities that are part of its equitable vaccine rollout, and when the state hits four million doses in those same communities, it could allow for wider reopening even if case and test positivity rates are higher.

Once the state administers four million vaccines to targeted communities, counties would be allowed to enter the orange tier with a case rate between 2 and 5.9 cases per 100,000 residents—a benchmark LA County already meets.

Earlier this month, the state said it would reserve 40% of its vaccine supply for these communities who have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic and also have less access to health care. To date, the state has administered about 2.3 million doses to this portion of the population.

It took the state about nine days to administer 400,000 doses to these communities after its announcement it would set aside doses for them. However, the speed of getting shots in arms could be bolstered by a consistent supply. The state is averaging over 207,000 doses per day and has over 1.8 million doses on hand, according to the state’s data dashboard.

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