This was a huge day for COVID-19 news, with significant announcements at the state, county, and school district levels, and Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti chiming in briefly, too. In short, because some virus statistics are improving, California Governor Gavin Newsom’s statewide “Stay at Home” order is lifted, many LA County business activities can resume immediately, and restaurants will be allowed to resume outdoor dining on Friday…but we are still in the purple (“widespread”) tier for spread of the virus, vaccinations efforts are still ramping up, schools won’t be re-opening any time soon, and LAUSD will require all staff to be vaccinated before schools can re-open. Here are all the details.
State of California
First, in his weekly video address today, California Governor Gavin Newsom announced that “all the regions in the state of California…are no longer in the “Stay at Home” order, and will move back into the “Blueprint for a Safer Economy,” also known as the color-coded tier system for re-opening certain segments of the economy.
The Stay at Home order was put into place on December 4, when the availability of ICU beds in the Southern California region fell below 15% of capacity (and quicky fell to 0% in many places shortly after that). Today, though, Newsom said ICU trends are looking up (see graphic above), and health officials estimate that ICU availability will be back up to 33% in Southern California within four weeks, which is very good news indeed.
In addition, according to Newsom, several other key indicators, including test positivity, ICU admission rates, and hospitalization rates for COVID-19 are also trending down, and the numbers in California – quite recently referred to as the numbe one hotspot for COVID-19 in the US – are also better now than those in several other key states.
At the same time he lifted the Stay at Home order, however, Newsom also noted there has been “some flattening of the curve, but we are not out of the woods yet,” pointing out that “deaths continue to be significant,” and the color-coded Blueprint system will not only remain in effect, but that most California counties, including Los Angeles, also remain in the Purple, or “widespread,” tier, with significant restrictions.
That said, however, Newsom’s order today does open the door for the resumption of many activities, such as outdoor dining and some salon services, across the state…though counties and cities can also set their own more restirctive rules if they choose to do so. (More about how LA County will react in the next section below.)
Meanwhile, Newsom also noted that the key to fully ending the pandemic is vaccinations, and the state is ramping up its vaccine program as fast as possible, with daily vaccination numbers tripling between January 4 and 15.
Newsom also set a goal of providing another 1 million doses of vaccines in the next 10 days, based on several lessons the state has learned so far:
Based on these principles, Newsom said he has instructed providers to be less conservative with their vaccine distributions, and to use all doses they’ve received so far, without reserving some, as they’d been doing, for the required second round of vaccinations.
In addition, Newsom said the state will be simplifying eligibility rules, and instituting a new “My Turn” scheduling and data system, which will help with notifications, appointment setting, and data sharing with state and federal agencies. (More information on this system will be provided tomorrow, Newsom said.)
The governor also reported that California is actually doing quite well already with the vaccine rollout. In fact, to meet President Biden’s stated goal of 100 million vaccine doses delivered in 100 days across the country, Newsom said California needs to provide 110,000 doses per day…but we’re already up to 120,000 and working to increase that number as fast as we can.
Finally, in addition to the restriction-lifting and vaccine news, Newsom also announced that, under a deal worked out with the state legislature this weekend, eviction protections for renters affected by COVID-19 will remain in effect until June 30…
… and the state will also use new federal relief funds to create a new rent subsidy program and other extended relief measures for renters.
For more information about these and other state-level COVID-19 programs and initiatives, see covid19.ca.gov.
Los Angeles County
Meanwhile, there was more guardedly good news from LA County Director of Public Health Barbara Ferrer in her weekly address today.
First of all, there were fewer than 8,500 new cases reported in LA County yesterday, which continues a recent downward trend after several weeks of daily cases soaring past the 10,000 and even 15,000 marks.
Also, with the daily case rate falling, the 7-day average number of cases – a good indicator of more long-term trends – is also down significantly in recent days.
Test positivity rates (the percentage of people tested who test positive for COVID-19) is also falling this month, Ferrer said, after rising quickly in November and December.
These trends align with the reasons Gov. Newsom lifted his regional Stay at Home order, and LA County’s return to the “purple” tier means that – effective immediately – certain kinds of business operations and gatherings can resume here…though still with strict capacity thresholds, and with protective measures such as face coverings, proper distancing and proper sanitation measures. Ferrer said these activities may resume immediately in LA County:
Also, said Ferrer, restaurants in LA County will be allowed to resume outdoor dining on Friday, and the prohibition on activities from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. will be lifted on that day, too…although all previous safety measures will still apply. “This is not the time to think that we can get back to our normal busineses and mormal way of interacting with each other,” Ferrer cautioned…and people who are at particular risk from COVID-19 should still try to stay home and avoid gatherings as much as possible, or new cases and other statistics could start to spike again.
Meanwhile, Ferrer, too, mentioned the new MyTurn website for LA County vaccination sites, and said even more vaccination information and other vaccination sites such as the Pomona Fairplex, CSUN, the Forum, Magic Mountain and the LA County Office of Education (in Downey) will be accessible through vaccinatelacounty.com.
Ferrer did note that all county vaccination appointments are currently full for this week, but she also said more slots should be opening up this weekend, and you can register to receive alerts about when you’re eligibile for a vaccination and when appointments are available. Also, people who do not have internet access can use the county’s call center at (833) 530-0473 (though people who do have internet access should use the online systems instead).
Those currently eligible to receive vaccines include:
- Healthcare workers at high and moderate risk of exposure to the COVID-19 virus through their work (Phase 1A)
- Long-term care facility residents (Phase 1A)
- Persons age 65 and over (Phase 1B Tier 1)
So far, Ferrer said, 685,075 vaccine doses have been allocated to LA County, and 525,747 of those have been administered at more than 180 vaccination sites around the county.
City of Los Angeles
In his weekly address today, Los Angeles Mayor Garcetti spent most of his time providing updates on crime in the city, but he did address the state and county COVID-19 announcements in the Q & A session at the end of his address, saying “We learn about this as quickly and as suddenly as the public does,” and indicating that more specific city responses have not yet been formulated.
Garcetti did acknowledge, however, that with three of the last four days seeing new case numbers below 10,000, the trend is moving in the right direction, and if those counts continue to fall, there could be changes in local restrictions soon. That said, though, Garcetti also said there would be no such announcements today, and “I’m anxious to be briefed with more details as well from the state.”
Finally, in his weekly update today, LAUSD Superintendent Austin Beutner addressed another COVID-19-related topic on many people’s minds: re-opening schools. And he said quite bluntly that this will not be possible without lots of coordination from state and local officials…and the vaccinations of all LAUSD staff.
Indeed, said Beutner, this is absolutely the “time for a real conversation about how we re-open the schools,” but it will be a huge effort, requiring a “whole government approach” to reduce virus rates, provide vaccinations, and provide other resources schools will need to keep students and their families safe. Also, he said, even though some numbers are trending in the right direction at the moment, current conditions are still dire enough that it’s unlikely the area will meet safe re-opening guidelines, and the required thresholds for infections, hospitalizations and deaths, before February 1, or even March 1 or later.
In fact, Beutner said, in some LAUSD communities, one in three children are now testing positive for COVID-19…and “it won’t be possible to safely re-open schools if that remains the case.”
Beutner said that before schools can open, the district will need increased efforts from state and county health officials to reduce transmission of the virus, along with the establishment of uniform re-opening guidelines across the state, instead of the “patchwork” of rules that is currently in effect, which “create confusion and undermine the public trust.”
As noted above, Beutner said a major element of a safe re-opening plan must be vaccinations for all school staff. “It’s not enough to say schools must re-open,” he said. “Vaccines are a critical piece of the puzzle. The goal must be to make sure all have access to vaccines” before returning to campus.
But Beutner also said that LAUSD can help with that effort and – indeed – is uniquely positioned to do so…with exactly the kinds of large locations, experience, technology, trained nursing staff, and the trust of its community that such an effort will require. “Schools are built to care for large numbers of people,” he said, and are already located in the communities where their families live and work.
Finally, according to a related story in the LA Times today, the district’s teachers seem to support Beutner’s vaccination stance, but UTLA and the district are still in the process of negotiating the terms of a formal re-opening agreement:
“Leaders of the teachers union, United Teachers Los Angeles, essentially agree with Beutner on the importance of vaccinations for school staff but also insist that vaccines will not be an immediate panacea. They want to see coronavirus infection rates drop significantly in communities served by Los Angeles Unified, the nation’s second-largest school system.
The union and district are in negotiations over what a return to campus would look like. The two sides were unable to reach agreement Sunday — which was their self-imposed deadline. Those negotiations are continuing.”
Correct call center phone number is 833-540-0473, there was an error in the LA county briefin