L.A. City and County COVID-19 Weekly Update (September 21, 2020)

CA Health and Government COVID-19 Guidance: Week in Review

Timeline for Potential Reopening

At the beginning of last week, L.A. County Director of Public Health Dr. Barbara Ferrer indicated that the County may be moving toward reopening. At a press conference on Monday, September 14, 2020, Dr. Ferrer stated that the County would hold all potential further steps to reopen parts of the economy until the end of September in order to gauge the impact of any potential community transmission related to the Labor Day holiday weekend.

At a press conference on Wednesday, September 16, Dr. Ferrer presented information on the County’s continued reduction of key metrics, including test positivity rate, hospitalizations and deaths. Dr. Ferrer noted that, while the County’s rate of new cases per 100,000 residents per day still falls within Tier 1 of Governor Gavin Newsom’s Blueprint for a Safer Economy for reopening, the region’s test positivity rate is actually in the Tier 3 range, at 3.2%. However, because California places counties in the most restrictive tier when the two metrics of the state’s Blueprint fall into different ranges of the tiered system, L.A. County remains in Tier 1, the most restrictive tier. She added that if the County can get its case rate down soon, and given the required two-week wait in each tier, the County could move into Tier 2 “sometime in October.”

Given regional progress in slowing the spread of COVID-19, cardrooms and breweries are now advocating for the opportunity to reopen. At the Board of Supervisors meeting on Tuesday, September 15, Supervisor Janice Hahn raised the issue of why cardrooms had not been able to reopen for outdoor activities, similar to restaurants. Dr. Ferrer indicated that cardrooms would be included in the evaluation of new openings at the end of the month, based on post-Labor Day data.

Several Supervisors also raised questions about why breweries have not been permitted to reopen, even if they partner with a food truck or other establishment to serve food, similar to restaurants. Dr. Ferrer indicated that due to, among other reasons, concerns about community spread related to consumption of alcohol, the County has not permitted reopening for outdoor activities at this time, but breweries would also be considered in the next phase of reopenings.

As part of its allocation of additional CARES Act funding also approved at the meeting on September 15, the Board of Supervisors included $10 million in grants to be available to breweries, wineries and other small businesses that have been forced to close due to COVID-19-related restrictions.

Testing Slowdown

Over the past week, it appears that testing slowed down across L.A. County. While testing capacity remains high, with over 180 testing sites open, the smoke from nearby wildfires and other factors may have discouraged Angelinos from visiting test sites. At the L.A. County Board of Supervisors meeting on September 15, County Health Director Dr. Christina Ghaly noted that while some testing sites remain closed due to nearby wildfires, there are “thousands” of testing appointments available and that Angelinos who may have been exposed to COVID-19 should continue to get tested. Dr. Ghaly did note that the County is “concerned” about the decrease in those seeking testing.

With respect to business-based testing, Dr. Ghaly encouraged businesses that wanted to set up testing programs to reach out to the County Department of Public Health, but noted that “back to work” testing or requiring a negative test to return to work is not recommended by the County or State Department of Public Health, or by the CDC.

At a press conference on September 16, Dr. Ghaly noted that County testing rates are down 35%-50% since August.

Education

Last week, L.A. County began considering applications from K-12 schools to partially reopen for limited in-person “special services” instruction, in line with the state’s guidance. This guidance allows schools to provide in-person instruction for small cohorts (12 students and two adult supervisors, up to a maximum of 10% of the student body on campus) for students with special educational needs, such as those with Individualized Education Plans (IEPs) and English as a Second Language (ESL) students. Dr. Ferrer indicated that the County Department of Public Health will be posting the application list weekly on Mondays. The list is separated by individual school building rather than by District. Dr. Ferrer noted that as of September 14, approximately half of the schools on the list of 59 indicated they were reopening some services as early as that day, and that the Department of Public Health would work with all these schools to ensure compliance with and provide guidance on the County’s health safety protocols. As of September 15, that list had grown to 109 schools.

At the Board of Supervisors meeting on September 15, Dr. Ferrer noted that these special services programs will result in 140,000–300,000 students returning to schools for in-person instruction, and therefore the Department of Public Health would be evaluating the impact of those students returning before expanding the waiver process for schools and school districts on a broader scale.

Enforcement

As we noted last week, the County has launched a new training and certification program for businesses working to comply with COVID-19 safety protocols. At the Board of Supervisors meeting on September 15, Dr. Ferrer announced that 215 businesses have completed the training and can post a special notice indicating that they are certified in compliance with the County Health Officer Order and regulations.

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