Once the virus epicenter, LA County rolls back restrictions

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LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – MARCH 13: Barbers from King’s Cutz give haircuts indoors while observing COVID-19 safety restrictions on March 13, 2021 in Los Angeles, California. The barbers were forced to perform their work outdoors under an awning last summer after coronavirus restrictions closed all indoor barbershops and hair salons. Some businesses are seeing an uptick in customers in Los Angeles as COVID-19 restrictions loosen with indoor dining and gyms set to reopen March 15. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

LOS ANGELES (NewsNation Now) — Los Angeles County is reopening businesses to an extent not seen since last spring when the coronavirus pandemic led to closures of movie theaters, gyms and indoor dining. The nation’s largest county, with a population of 10.4 million, has been the epicenter of the country’s deadly winter surge of cases that led to more than 10,500 deaths over two months. 

A glimpse of normal is finally possible with the loosening of restrictions for the first time in over a year. But it will be far from normal with capacities greatly limited, cautions in place and warnings given if people are caught violating them.

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti closed bars and restaurants last March and days later California Gov. Gavin Newsom issued the nation’s first statewide shutdown. Grocery stores remained open, restaurants could offer takeout, but theaters, fitness centers, hair and nail salons, amusement parks and scores of other types of businesses were closed.

After weathering a winter surge that pushed hospitals to the breaking point, the county has been on the mend. Weekly new cases that topped 100,000 two months ago have fallen to about 10,000 and the percentage of people testing positive has dropped from more than 20% to barely 2% according to Los Angeles County Public Health.

When the state created a countywide system of color-coded tiers in August, indicating what businesses could open and at what capacity, Los Angeles was placed in the purple — the most restrictive. It did not change until Monday with the county moving into the red “substantial tier.”

Museums, cinemas, zoos and aquariums can open indoors at 25% capacity. Ditto for restaurants, though waiters are encouraged to wear two face coverings and tables are limited to six people from the same household.

Gyms and yoga and dance studios can open at 10% capacity with masks required indoors. Retail businesses, shopping malls and salons can increase capacity to 50%.

It’s part of a broader improvement throughout California that will have more than 90% of the state’s population of nearly 40 million residents out of the most restrictive tier by Wednesday.

On Monday, the state is opening up vaccinations to an estimated 4.4 million people ages 16 to 64 with disabilities and certain health conditions, including severe obesity, type 2 diabetes, chronic kidney disease at stage 4 or above and Down syndrome.

Overall California has administered more than 11.7 million doses of the vaccine, according to the state health department.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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