KATHLEEN RONAYNE and BRIAN MELLEY
Populous Los Angeles County won approval Friday to reopen restaurants and hair-cutting businesses to customers while remote Lassen County, the first California jurisdiction to backpedal on a reopening plan, reversed itself again and decided to allow in-person dining and shopping in stores after determining it mitigated its first small outbreak of coronavirus cases.
Los Angeles County, which has 10 million residents and more than half the statewide death toll from COVID-19, had been moving more slowly toward reopening than most of the state’s other counties until it received the variance to Gov. Gavin Newsom’s multi-stage reopening plan.
“That means that restaurants, salons, and barbershops will be able to reopen,” county Supervisor Janice Hahn tweeted.
There were no immediate details on exactly how quickly the variance would be implemented by the county.
Lassen County, meanwhile, issued its new order late Thursday, allowing cafes and stores that previously won approval to reopen again and allowing churches, salons and barbershops to submit plans to resume their services.
It only took one infection that spread to four other people before the remote Northern California count that is home to 30,000 people to temporarily rescinded reopening orders on Tuesday.
Dr. Kenneth Korver, the county public health officer, issued a new order that effectively threw out the previous edict. He said he made the previous decision because of “the increase in number of positive COVID-19 cases from 2 to 5 in a relatively short time.” He said there also were reports of irresponsible behavior by people who tested positive.
The county had not reported a coronavirus case until May 22, when a resident who had traveled outside the county tested positive, said Barbara Longo, the county health and social services director.
A team of nurses and health department employees worked to track down everyone who had been in contact with the infected person and get them tested, leading to all the additional cases, including the spouse of the initial patient.
Several more people who had come into contact with the initial person infected were also under orders to stay home for two weeks.
Before the first case turned up, the county had made a push for more widespread testing, despite reluctance by residents. A radio station had taken an informal survey and found more than nine out of 10 listeners said they wouldn’t get tested, Longo said.
Longo said she wanted to dispel rumors that the only reason there were no cases was because no one wanted to get tested, fearing a longer shutdown.
After prevailing upon the state to agree to provide 20,000 tests, the county nearly doubled testing over three days. Of the roughly 425 tested, none came back positive, though many of those results were still pending. The three state prisons in the area have had no known cases.
The county began reopening businesses May 11 under state guidance that sets limits of fewer than one case per 10,000 residents in the past two weeks. Lassen County exceeded that limit with more than three cases. It has not had any deaths or hospitalizations.
Many of California’s rural, northern counties have seen few coronavirus cases, and they were among the first to receive approval from the state to begin reopening businesses. Forty-seven of the state’s 58 counties, including Lassen, have now been given approval to move more quickly into reopening. They can get that approval based on hospitalizations, positive test rates or total case loads, but they must submit plans explaining how they would respond if an outbreak occurred.
While Lassen was the first county to revoke its attestation to the state that it could safely reopen, it’s not alone in applying the brakes on the return toward a so-called normal.
Humboldt County on California’s North Coast was one of the first to get approval to open restaurants and is now taking a more cautious approach after a spike in cases and its first deaths. Sonoma County said on Wednesday it would slow its reopening after a recent surge in cases.
San Francisco, which had taken a more cautious approach, said Thursday it would allow outdoor dining and indoor shopping, religious services and sporting events without spectators as of June 15 and give barbershops and hair salons permission to reopen in mid July. It also said it would require masks or face coverings outside the house — even during exercise.
For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death.
Melley and reporter John Antczak contributed from Los Angeles.