Los Angeles Movie Theaters, Restaurants Reopening In Red Tier, Local Officials Confirm

The Los Angeles County Public Health department confirmed on Thursday the news announced by Gov. Gavin Newsom on Wednesday that movie theaters can open indoors at 25% capacity “with reserved seating only where each group is seated with at least 6 feet of distance in all directions between any other groups.”

Los Angeles County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said on Wednesday that the county planned to release its own operating guidelines for restaurants, movie theaters, gyms, outdoor live events and theme park reopenings as the county anticipates moving into the less-restrictive “red” tier of California’s reopening blueprint.

The L.A. County press release confirming the decision makes no mention of the other caveat in the state order, but county officials cannot be more lenient than the state, so both should apply.

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The state restrictions read as follows: “Capacity must be limited to 25% or 100 people, whichever is less.” Thus, not only is the new L.A. county health order in effect, theaters will also be bound by the limit of 100 people mentioned in the state order.

While Governor Gavin Newsom announced the loosening of state restrictions earlier Wednesday, local health officials have the authority to be more restrictive than the state if they so choose. L.A. health officials have in the past exercised that option.

At restaurants, for instance, L.A. officials prohibited TV screens outdoors even though state guidelines permitted it. On Wednesday, Ferrer said she had no definitive answer on whether indoor dining will be allowed in L.A., despite it being a permitted activity in the “red” tier of the state’s Blueprint for a Safer Economy. Thursday’s announcement clears that up.

County health officials’ announcement on Thursday is more restrictive on indoor dining than the state’s rules. While L.A. will allow indoor dining at 25%, diners at each table are to be from the same household and the tables need to be spaced not 6 feet but 8 feet apart.

The morning after his less-than-stellar State of the State speech, Gov. Gavin Newsom delivered some good news to about 15 million Californians. Newsom said the state on Friday will meet its threshold of administering 2 million Covid-19 vaccine doses in low-income, hard-hit communities, triggering a change in the state’s Blueprint for a Safer Economy that will advance Los Angeles, Orange and San Bernardino counties into the “red” tier of that matrix and clear a path for more businesses to reopen. L.A. has been in the most restrictive tier of the governor’s Blueprint since August.

Here is the entire list of reopening guidelines issued by L.A. County officials on Thursday:

-Museum, Zoos and Aquariums can open indoors at 25% capacity.

-Gyms, Fitness Centers, Yoga and Dance Studios can open indoors at 10% capacity with masking requirement for all indoor activities.

-Movie Theatres can open indoors at 25% capacity with reserved seating only, where each group is seated with at least 6 feet of distance in all directions between any other groups.

-Retail and Personal Care Services can increase capacity to 50% with masking required at all times and for all services.

-Restaurants can open indoors at 25% max capacity under the following conditions: 8 feet distancing between tables; one household per table with a limit of 6 people; the HVAC system is in good working order and has been evaluated, and to the maximum extent, possible ventilation has been increased. Public Health strongly recommends that all restaurant employees interacting with customers indoors are provided with additional masking protection (above the currently required face shield over face masks); this can be fit tested N95 masks, KN95 masks, or double masks and a face shield. In addition, Public Health strongly recommends that all employees working indoors are informed about and offered opportunities to be vaccinated. Outdoor dining can accommodate up to six people per table from 3 different households.

-Indoor Shopping Malls can increase capacity to 50% with common areas remaining closed; food courts can open at 25% capacity adhering to the restaurant guidance for indoor dining.

-Institutes of Higher Education can reopen all permitted activities with required safety modifications, except for residential housing, which remains under current restrictions for the Spring semester. Schools are permitted to reopen for in-person instruction for students in grades 7-12 adhering to all state and county directives.

-Private gatherings can occur indoors with up to 3 separate households, with masking and distancing required at all times. People who are fully vaccinated can gather in small numbers indoors with other people who are fully vaccinated without required masking and distancing.

Public Health Director Ferrer said earlier this week that it will take 48 hours after the state announces the vaccination threshold is met for the county to officially move into the red tier. If the goal is met by Friday, as Newsom announced, the county could theoretically advance by Sunday. But the L.A. announcement says “the red tier rules will go into effect red tier that allows for additional re-openings between Monday, March 15 at 12:01am and Wednesday, March 17. The exact date depends on when 2 million vaccine doses have been administered to people in the most under-resourced communities across the state.”

State officials recently announced theme parks would be allowed to reopen on April 1 at 15% of capacity, with in-state visitors only. With L.A. and Orange Counties likely entering the red tier on Friday, that timeline is now moved up by about two weeks. Disney CEO Bob Chapek announced on Tuesday that Disneyland would reopen in “late April.”

Outdoor live events like sports and concerts are allowed to reopen at 20% capacity. That includes suites at 25% occupancy per suite and no more than three households gathered in each suite.

On Tuesday, two members of the L.A. County Board of Supervisors said they supported fully aligning with state guidelines ASAP.

Ferrer warned the board that while case numbers and the testing-positivity rate have declined precipitously in recent weeks, things could easily worsen if residents become lax about infection-control measures.

“This is the month I would say — the month of March, the early part of April — where we have to be extraordinarily cautious,” she said. “Because we’ve been here before. We’ve been here with reopenings. We’ve been here with travel around Thanksgiving and Christmas. We’ve seen what happens around holidays if we’re not really careful. … We’ve got to keep everybody alive right now so they can get vaccinated and stay alive. So this would be a time for extreme caution.”

She pointed specifically to the spread of variants of the virus that causes Covid-19, which can spread more easily from person to person. Ferrer said the variant first identified in the United Kingdom has been increasing its reach in Los Angeles County, and is now believed to be responsible for 10% of all COVID cases in the county. The so-called West Coast variants are even more prevalent, according to state data.

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