LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- Los Angeles County restaurants can again welcome customers indoors, and movie theaters and fitness centers were able to reopen, all at limited capacity, Monday after the county advanced to a less-restrictive tier in the state's "Blueprint for a Safer Economy.''
County officials confirmed the move Friday, when the state met the threshold of administering 2 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine in low-income communities across California that have been particularly hard hit by the pandemic.
When it met that threshold, the state eased the requirements for counties to advance through the four tiers of the blueprint, which governs business restrictions based on the spread of COVID-19. The new requirements allow Los Angeles County -- as well as Orange County -- to move out of the most restrictive purple tier and into the red tier.
Under red tier guidelines announced by the Los Angeles County on Thursday, indoor dining can resume at 25% of capacity. The county will require restaurants to have 8 feet of distance between all tables, which will be restricted to a maximum of six people from the same household. The rules also call for ventilation to be increased "to the maximum extent possible.''
Restaurant servers are already required to wear a face mask and a face shield. With the new rules, the Department of Public Health "strongly recommends'' that employees upgrade their face coverings, through the use of higher-grade N95 or KN95 masks, or a combination of double-masking and a face shield.
The owner of the Peach Cafe in Monrovia, along with customers dining indoors Monday morning, said easing the restrictions is a major step forward.
"We're thrilled, we're thrilled to be back open and let everybody come inside, especially on a rainy day. The outdoor dining gets a damper with the rain...so we're glad to be back open," said owner Chris Grattan.
One customer said the return to indoor dining offered a glimmer of hope.
"It's so nice just to get out and just get back to something that's normal and regular," said Monrovia resident Sascha Boujetto. "The atmosphere here -- outside is great, but on the inside it's like you're at home. It's comfort. Comfort food, you know everybody, everybody knows you -- it just feels like home."
Health officials strongly recommend -- but do not require -- that all employees be informed about and offered the chance to be vaccinated against COVID-19. Food service workers are already eligible to receive the shots.
Rules for other businesses that took effect at 12:01 a.m. Monday largely align with state guidance for the red tier:
-- museums, zoos and aquariums can open indoors at 25% of capacity;
-- gyms and fitness centers can open indoors at 10% capacity, with required masking;
-- movie theaters can open at 25% capacity with reserved seating to provide at least six feet of distance between patrons;
-- retail and personal care businesses can increase indoor capacity to 50%;
-- indoor shopping malls can reopen at 50%, with common areas remaining closed, but food courts can open at 25% capacity and in adherence with the other requirements for indoor restaurants.
Moving to the red tier will also allow the reopening of theme parks as early as April 1 -- including Disneyland in Orange County and Universal Studios Hollywood in Los Angeles County -- at 15% of capacity, with in-state visitors only.
The rules also permit resumption of activities at institutes of higher education, and reopening of in-person instruction for students in grades 7-12. Private indoor gatherings are also permitted for people from up to three different households, with masking and physical distancing. People who are vaccinated can gather in small groups indoors without masking or distancing.
"This is welcome news, especially as many of our small businesses have borne the brunt of the financial fallout from this pandemic, and as our students struggle to keep up with distance learning,'' county Board of Supervisors Chair Hilda Solis said. "We have achieved this milestone and moved down to the red tier because as a county we worked hard, looked out for one another and came together to defeat the dark winter surge.
"Although we are taking steps to re-open some of the hardest hit sectors of our economy, that in no way means we can drop our guard now,'' she said. "We owe it to our neighbors, our local businesses, and our children to remain vigilant so that the re-openings are safe and long-lasting -- wearing masks and physical distancing remain critical.''
The cities of Long Beach and Pasadena, which both have their own health departments separate from the county, also shifted to the red tier and enacted new loosened rules Monday -- largely mirroring the county.
Long Beach officials said that city will also align with new guidelines the state announced Thursday allowing wineries and breweries that do not serve food to reopen outdoors for alcohol service. The rule requires all customers to have an advance reservation and be seated at tables, all of which will have a 90-minute time limit per customer.
Los Angeles County has not announced any plans to adopt the new guidelines on non-food-serving breweries and wineries. Counties are permitted to impose tougher restrictions than the state.
Meanwhile, the county's rate of new cases and hospitalizations continued their general decline on Sunday. The county health department reported 644 new cases of COVID-19 and 28 additional deaths, though officials said Sunday's case numbers and deaths reported may reflect delays in weekend reporting.
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The number of county residents in the hospital with the virus dropped from 951 Saturday to 893, with 251 in intensive care.
The county has now logged 1,210,265 cases of COVID-19 and 22,474 fatalities since the pandemic began.
"We have made good progress and have more progress to make. We urge everyone to use caution and good judgment in these next critical weeks and months to avoid surges in cases, hospitalizations, and deaths like we saw at the end of 2020 and the beginning of 2021,'' Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said on Saturday. "Don't let your guard down. Continue following all safety measures. Stay masked, maintain at least a 6-foot distance from others, and keep in mind outdoor activities are far safer than indoor ones.''
In addition to Los Angeles and Orange counties, 11 other counties across the state were also cleared to move into the red tier thanks to the state reaching the vaccination milestone. Barring any reversal in case numbers, 13 more counties will move into the red tier when the state does its weekly update on Tuesday, including San Diego and Riverside counties, meaning the entirety of Southern California will be in red by the middle of next week.
Gov. Gavin Newsom's new guidelines will adjust the requirements again when the state reaches 4 million vaccinations in hard-hit communities. It was unclear how long that effort will take, but based on the current pace of vaccinations, it will likely take at least a month.
When the 4 million mark is reached, Los Angeles and Orange counties could -- barring a resurgence of cases -- quickly advance to the even less-restrictive orange tier of the economic-reopening blueprint. Such a move would lead to even further loosening of capacity restrictions and a reopening of bars with outdoor service only.
Also Sunday, the state's first case of a COVID-19 variant first discovered in Brazil in January was detected in San Bernardino, according to officials in that county.
City News Service contributed to this report.