Looking to combat a surge in coronavirus cases, Los Angeles County will tighten some restrictions this week, such as requiring restaurants, wineries, breweries and non-essential retail businesses to close at 10 p.m., while limiting gatherings to no more than 15 people from a maximum of three households.
The county previously issued guidance limiting gatherings to three households, but there was no numerical limit on attendees.
Although the changes had not been formally announced as of late afternoon, County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl said the restrictions will take effect Friday. Other measures will include a 50% capacity limit for restaurants with outdoor service and a 25% capacity limit for personal care businesses and offices, she said.
Customers of personal care businesses — such as nail salons — will have to make advance appointments, and no services can be performed that require the customer to remove a face mask.
The changes come amid a surge in COVID-19 that saw daily case numbers exceed 2,000 most of last week before topping 3,000 on Saturday and Sunday.
The county has also seen a steady increase in hospitalizations. The number of L.A. County residents hospitalized with the virus surpassed 1,000 on Sunday for the first time in months, jumping from 966 on Saturday to 1,014, then up to 1,049 on Monday.
Although the rate of deaths from the virus has not risen sharply, that number is considered a “lagging indicator,” meaning it tends to increase several weeks after a spike in hospitalizations.
All other key metrics in the county are on the rise. Public health director Barbara Ferrer said Monday the county’s average daily rate of new cases per 100,000 residents was 13.7, nearly double the 7.6 rate from a week ago. The county’s seven-day average daily rate of positive virus tests was 5.3% on Monday, up from 3.8% just a week ago.
The county reported 2,795 cases on Monday — a day when case reports are traditional lower due to a lag in reporting of test results over the weekend. Long Beach health officials announced 130 more cases Monday, while Pasadena reported 16. The new cases lifted the cumulative county total to 342,489 since the start of the pandemic.
Another six coronavirus-related deaths were also reported by the county Monday, raising the death toll to 7,275.
“It is clear that L.A. County is at a very dangerous point in the pandemic,” Ferrer said.
Health officials have pointed squarely at gatherings of residents either in public or private settings — for driving the recent surge, which has primarily involved younger residents under age 50.
Ferrer said residents between 18-29 have consistently accounted for a larger proportion of new cases over the last two months, dramatically widening the gap over all other age groups. But while younger people are becoming infected more often, it is older residents suffering the consequences in terms of hospitalizations, she said, meaning young people are becoming infected and passing the virus to older residents who are at higher risk of severe illness.
“This is most unfortunate and it serves as a stark reminder that young people are spreading the virus with disastrous results for our elderly,” Ferrer said.
Los Angeles County is already mired in the most restrictive purple tier of California’s four-tier coronavirus monitoring system, placing severe limits on businesses and public gatherings. Based on the surge in cases in recent weeks, the county will be staying in that purple tier indefinitely.
Gov. Gavin Newsom on Monday announced that 28 counties statewide were being moved back to the purple tier in response to a dramatic increase in case numbers. The move means 41 of the state’s 58 counties are under the tightest restrictions, up from 13 on Sunday.
Ferrer said she remains hopeful that if residents get back to strict adherence to protocols such as avoiding gatherings, wearing face coverings and practicing social distancing, particularly over the Thanksgiving holiday, more drastic restrictions — such as a return to strict stay-at-home orders — can be averted.
“If by us taking individual and collective actions as people and as organizations we don’t get it back under control, then we have no choice but to take a hard look at what kinds of restrictions would again limit our ability to intermingle, particularly in those situations where there may be higher risk,” Ferrer said.