When the LA County Public Health Department is issuing more warnings about the current heatwave than about COVID-19, you know the pandemic news is good. So good, in fact, that yesterday LA County – as planned for several weeks – announced the end of most pandemic-related restrictions.
As of yesterday, the previous “Stay at Home Order” was replaced with a new “Safer Return Together at Work and in the Community” order, which “removes the local capacity limits on business and other sectors, local physical distancing requirements, and many other previously required safety modifications.” This means many businesses may now resume mostly normal operations, with no “sector-specific” rules for restaurants, bars, etc.
Now, said LA County Director of Public Health Barbara Ferrer at a press conference yesterday, “We can go back to something that feels almost normal.”
At the event, Ferrer, LA County Supervisor Hilda Solis, and LA County Department of Health Services Director Christina Ghaly summarized the efforts of the County to fight the pandemic over the last year, and thanked the health workers and other front line employees who were part of the County’s massive effort to successfully educate the public, provide testing, and finally, vaccinate residents to help reach the new milestone.
In just five months, since the pandemic’s peak in January, Ferrer said, LA County has gone from 15,000 new cases per day to fewer than 200 cases per day for most of this month, with hospitalizations and deaths declining just as dramatically:
In fact, said Ferrer, Los Angeles now has fewer cases per 100,000 people, and lower test positivity rates, than any other major metro area:
New Rules for Masks and More
It’s important to note, however, that not ALL restrictions have been lifted, especially for unvaccinated individuals, and also for everyone, regardless of vaccination status, in certain places and situations.
For example, according to LA County guidelines, “If you are fully vaccinated, you are not required to wear a mask, except in places where EVERYONE is required to wear a mask. Keep your vaccine record handy as businesses can ask for proof of vaccination.”
These “places where everyone 2 years of age and older must continue to wear a mask, regardless of their vaccination status” include public transportation, schools, childcare and other youth settings, health care facilities, and more.
And those who are unvaccinated will still be required to wear masks in indoor public spaces, including retail stores, restaurants, theaters, and more.
Also, LA County is still recommending that unvaccinated people continue to wear masks when indoors with people outside their immediate families…and that they wear respirators (N95 or KN95 masks) in crowds and at worksites.
Also, for the moment, workplaces remain governed by stricter standards set by the California Occupational Health and Safety Administration, which still require all employees to wear masks in workplaces. Ferrer said yesterday that Cal/OSHA may revise these rules within the next few days, but for the moment they remain.
Finally, it’s also important to note that individual workplaces and businesses do still have the right to set their own stricter policies for masks and distancing (including requiring all workers and/or customers to wear masks), if they choose to do so. Also, businesses are allowed to ask for verification of vaccine status…and they cannot prevent employees or customers from wearing masks if they choose to do so.
According to the County officials, it’s important to remember that although most business restrictions are now lifted and progress is great at the moment, the pandemic is not yet over, the original strain of the virus has not become any less lethal, and newer and more virulent variants of the coronavirus are still emerging and still pose a threat – especially to those who have not yet been vaccinated (including children under the age of 12).
Also, noted Ferrer, while more than 5.4 million of the County’s 10 million residents have received at least one dose of the vaccine (and 4.6 million are fully vaccinated…
…vaccination rates are still slowing, and we will not reach the coveted threshold for “herd immunity” (at which enough people have been vaccinated that the virus cannot find numerous new hosts and does not spread dangerously) until later this year. And that target could move out even further if vaccination rates continue to fall.
To help keep us on track to achieve the level of immunity we need, LA County is now urging everyone who can get vaccinated to do so before July 4, which is both a holiday that presents many opportunities for large gatherings (where the virus can spread easily), and President Joe Biden’s goal date for reaching a national vaccination percentage of 70%.
“Public Health encourages everyone unvaccinated for COVID-19 to get vaccinated ahead of time to celebrate Fourth of July safely,” said a County press release earlier this week. “Receiving the one dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine by June 20 allows for the two-week time period needed to be fully protected by July 4. If the Pfizer or Moderna two-dose vaccines are your preference, it is strongly recommended that you begin your two-dose series as soon as possible to have some limited protection before the July 4th holiday.”
According to the chart above, the 70%-by-July-4 target is within reach for LA County…and according to more local numbers, most of our Buzz-area neighborhoods are also making great progress. As of yesterday, 8 of the 23 neighborhoods we’ve been tracking are already at or above the 70% target for at least one vaccine dose, and another 9 are well on their way, with more than 60% having received at least one dose of a vaccine. Only 6 of the 23 areas are currently at less than 60% vaccinated.
Ferrer and the other officials at yesterday’s announcement said the focus between now and July 4 will be on getting vaccine information and vaccines to those who are currently still unvaccinated, encouraging those who are still unvaccinated to wear masks and/or respirators when they should, and reminding people that if they do get sick to isolate themselves and get tested as soon as possible.
And Ghaly echoed Ferrer’s remarks. “The danger of not getting vaccinated is very real,” said Ghaly, explaining that the virus needs human hosts to mutate, and the more people that are vaccinated, the safer all of us will be from new mutations.
At the moment, though, the news is all good. And to remind us just how far we’ve come, we found this timeline from the New York Times, summarizing how the pandemic has run its course in Los Angeles over the last year, both interesting and informative: https://www.nytimes.com/2021/06/15/us/coronavirus-california-timeline.html