More retail stores, beaches and other outdoor recreational areas are being reopened under a new public health order announced by county officials Wednesday.
The virus continues to kill more people in L.A. County each day, with health officials often reporting hundreds of new cases and dozens of fatalities. On Wednesday, Health Director Dr. Barbara Ferrer confirmed another 47 deaths and 1,264 new cases. In about two months, 1,659 people have died of the virus and 33,180 have tested positive.
But the new health order, unlike the one before it, does not have an end date.
“It will go on and be modified over time as appropriate,” Ferrer said of the order. “It has a start date of today, and no definitive end date.”
Beaches are being opened for the first time in weeks — allowing only in-motion activities like swimming, surfing, walking and other exercise. Parking lots will remain closed and beachgoers are not allowed to sunbathe, set up picnics, gather for sports games or otherwise set up camp.
A full list of restrictions can be found here.
Last week, the county took its first steps toward reopening since stay-at-home orders took effect in mid-March. Certain businesses such as florists, clothing stores, car dealerships and other retailers opened their doors for the first time in weeks — restricted to curbside service only.
But now all retailers can reopen with doorside service under the new health order, Ferrer said. Manufacturing businesses “that supply lower-risk businesses” are also being allowed to reopen, she said. However, businesses located inside indoor malls are still not allowed to operate, Ferrer said, citing state rules.
Customers are still not allowed to enter the retail stores that are being allowed to reopen. And the businesses are required to continue following social distancing guidelines such as requiring people to wear masks and keeping them 6 feet apart.
Some golf courses and trails were reopened over the weekend, and on Wednesday, Ferrer said the new health order allows use of “tennis and pickleball courts, shooting and archery ranges, equestrian centers, model airplane areas, community gardens and bike parks.”
However, people are still not allowed to have large gatherings or events, she said.
Earlier this week, Ferrer said there’s been more “stability” in the rate of death and infection compared to several weeks earlier. “We’ve actually had some tiny decreases,” she said.
Still, with more hundreds of cases daily, Ferrer said the county will continue to take a cautious approach in lifting restrictions.
“This will be a slow journey,” Ferrer said. “In the last few weeks, we’ve worked together to slow the spread of COVID-19, and this will now be our new foreseeable normal in the future. Everywhere we go, we will be taking protections.”
This week appears to mark a shift in messaging from L.A. officials as Mayor Eric Garcetti on Tuesday acknowledged the same reality, saying in a statement: “We’re not moving past COVID-19, we’re learning to live with it — and we will keep taking measured steps toward a new, safer reality in the days and weeks ahead.”
Ferrer said that means wearing a facial covering for the foreseeable future, and at least for now, the continued closure of businesses where people gather or share considerable contact. This includes places like restaurants, gyms, hair salons and movie theaters.
The precautions will continue because the virus isn’t going anywhere, a reality laid bare by the leveling off of deaths and infections. L.A. County continues to hold about half the fatalities and cases in California, which has seen a plateau in the weekly death toll that health experts find troubling.
For a month, California recorded around 500 fatalities week after week, according to a Los Angeles Times analysis, signaling no major decline despite widespread stay-at-home orders.
With no vaccine or easily accessible testing, these numbers have led public health officials to recommend a strategy of containment rather than prevention, Ferrer said. That’s where physical distancing and increase infection control measures come in, which she said are the only effective tools against the extremely contagious respiratory illness: “This virus is relentless.”
L.A. County residents are gradually returning to reopened stores and other public places even as the virus continues killing people locally at a relatively steady rate. While the lockdown didn’t bring the number of infections and deaths lower, Ferrer said it did manage to prevent more people from getting sick and dying.
“Well, we did accomplish something huge,” Ferrer said. “We did never have a surge, we never had a peak.”
“And I can promise you if everybody hadn’t done their part, if people hadn’t stayed home — that would not have been what the last two months looked like,” she said. “We would have had many, many more cases, and many, many more deaths.”
Cities and countries around the world are also reopening, facing words of caution from health experts warning of possible spikes in infections. An influential model from the University of Washington indicates more than 6,000 people in California could die of COVID-19 by Aug. 4.
Such a possibility could change the course of action in L.A. County, Ferrer said earlier this week, saying it would cause the county to move more slowly or even backtrack and reinstate restrictions.
“We’re gonna have to watch the numbers really, really closely,” Ferrer said. “If we were to see the kind of spike that’s predicted in that model, that would be extraordinarily worrisome…”