Los Angeles County restaurants were cleared Friday to reopen for limited dine-in service, as were barbershops and hair salons, as the state approved the county's request to move deeper into California's roadmap for restarting the economy.
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 earlier this 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.
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County health officials were expected to release reopening protocols Friday afternoon, and businesses will be free to open as soon as they can meet them, potentially as early as Friday night.
Barger said those protocols will outline "best practices for spacing between patrons, using barriers, optimizing capacity and other recommendations to ensure restaurants can open safely and quickly."
As in other counties that have already allowed restaurants to reopen, eateries will likely be forced to eliminate shared-use items, such as silverware and condiments, in favor of disposal cutlery and single-use packages.
Other Southern California counties, including Orange, Riverside and San Diego, received variances last week, and restaurants were permitted to open there with a series of health restrictions -- such as limited capacity, required social distancing and face coverings for staff and customers.
Hair salons have also been allowed to reopen in those counties, with restrictions on capacity and services. Restrictions generally blocked the salons from offering any services that require workers to touch customers' faces.
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 today, and Westfield Century City is set to open Saturday. 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.
County public health director Barbara Ferrer again stressed the need for business 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."
News of the long-awaited restaurant and hair salon reopenings came on a day the county reported another 50 deaths due to the coronavirus, raising the county's overall number of fatalities to 2,290.
Another 1,824 cases were also reported, pushing the total to 51,562.
The large number of new cases was attributed in part to a backlog of about 500 tests being reported, but officials have also touted the everincreasing availability of testing that has led to increased figures.
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. "… 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 COVID19 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 restaurants, 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."