Los Angeles County officials reported another 1,379 cases of COVID-19 and 25 additional deaths Sunday, bringing the county's totals to 54,996 cases and 2,362 fatalities.
"Through these difficult times, we mourn with all of you who have lost someone you love to COVID-19. We are deeply sorry for your loss, and wish you healing and peace,'' said Barbara Ferrer, county public health director. "If you are returning to work or are visiting re-opened spaces and businesses, please remember that the actions we all take today will affect the numbers of cases, hospitalizations and deaths several weeks from now. This virus has not changed and is still easily transmitted among people in contact with each other. Please continue to take care of each other and use the tools we know work to slow the spread of the virus: wear a face covering and keep 6 feet of distance anytime you are around others not in your household."
Restaurants throughout the county were cleared to reopen for limited dine-in service this weekend, as were barbershops and hair salons.
Los Angeles -- home to roughly half of the state's coronavirus cases and deaths -- had been one of only about a dozen California counties not to have received a "variance" from the state allowing more types of businesses to reopen. The variances are granted based on a list of criteria, including infection rates, hospital capacity, testing availability and ability to trace contacts of infected residents.
The county submitted a request for a variance last week, and it was granted Friday morning.
"This further brings our communities together and resumes a sense of normalcy, representing monumental progress for Los Angeles County on the path toward recovery," Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Kathryn Barger said.
County health officials released reopening protocols Friday afternoon, and businesses will be free to open as soon as they can meet them.
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For restaurants, the guidelines include a restriction to 60% of capacity. Customers and employees will be screened for symptoms such as cough or fever, physical distancing measures will be enforced and customers will be required to wear face coverings when not eating. Customers are encouraged to make reservations, and they will be asked to wait for their table either in their cars or outside the restaurant. Bar areas of restaurants will remain closed.
Hair salons will also be required to enforce physical distancing, and employees and customers will also be screened for health symptoms. Customers and employees will be required to wear face coverings.
Los Angeles County previously revised its Health Officer Order on Tuesday, clearing the way for all retailers in the city, including those inside enclosed shopping malls, to reopen for in-store shopping with restrictions on capacity and mandatory face coverings.
The revised order also allowed the reopening of offices, swap meets, flea markets and drive-in movie theaters. Houses of worship were also cleared to again hold in-person services, with limited capacity and restrictions on activities.
With that new order in place, several Southland shopping malls reopened this week, including the Citadel Outlets in Commerce and the Glendale Galleria. The Beverly Center reopened Friday, and Westfield Century City is set to open Sunday. Only a limited number of stores are open, and hours are limited.
The county health order continues to require residents to wear cloth face coverings when interacting with people outside their own households. It also calls for continued social-distancing. Reopened businesses also must adhere to strict safety protocols, requiring face coverings, limited capacity inside stores and hand-washing and sanitizing stations.
Ferrer again stressed the need for businesses to adhere to all requirements before reopening.
"The only reason we were able to successfully submit a variance was because of all the work everyone has done throughout our county," she said. "We do ask businesses to please adhere to the directives that are included in the health officer order and to the protocols prior to reopening. Compliance with the protocols is required. Reopening as safely as possible and in ways that protect both employees and customers will require a lot of effort, and we do appreciate everyone's commitment to doing this right."
In submitting the request for a variance to the state, county health officials noted this week that there has been a downward trend in the rate of positive cases and hospitalizations, offering assurance the county is equipped to handle a surge in cases if one should occur.
"As a reminder, the actions that we take today affect what we'll see in terms of cases, hospitalizations and deaths several weeks from now,'' Ferrer said Friday. "... As we enter the weekend and we're out of our homes and visiting many of the reopened establishments because we're all really hungering for some return to normalcy, I want to just note that the new normal that you're going to see reflected in the businesses reflects the fact that COVID-19 is still very active in our communities. And there's a great deal at stake in the reopening.
"While many people do not know anyone who's been infected with COVID-19 and they don't know anybody who may have passed away or who had a loved one who passed away, there are thousands of other people across our community who are positive for COVID-19 who have been or are right now very ill. Many people have passed away and there are many people who are mourning the loss of loved ones. So it's important to understand that we all need to do our part as we go through our recovery journey to take care of each other."
Barger said that on Tuesday, members of the county's Economic Resiliency Task Force will give a presentation on "roadmaps to safely reopen some key sectors, including sports venues, theme parks, corporate businesses and manufacturing and film and digital media."
She said the roadmaps will "ensure industries can hit the ground running with proper public health guidelines ... as soon as the state gives approval to reopen. The plans provide guidance for immediate reopening and a framework for the return to the new normal."