Glendale residents will soon see more of the normality they were used to before the COVID-19 pandemic hit last year.
The L.A. Department of Public Health announced this week that the county has met the threshold for the orange tier — indicating moderate infection of the coronavirus — of the state’s blueprint for a safer economy. The next-to-lowest tier loosens restrictions on businesses and allows theme parks to reopen. The new health order will go into effect this coming Monday, April 5.
“After a year of fear, anxiety and tragic loss, we’re seeing glimmers of hope once more,” County Supervisor Hilda Solis said in a virtual update on Tuesday. “But this didn’t happen just by accident. This was because of our collective hard work.”
According to data from the state, the adjusted case rate in L.A. County went down from 3.7 per 100,000 to 3.3 per 100,000 and the seven-day positivity rate dropped to 1.5% and 2.1% in underserved communities. The positivity rates are good enough to qualify for the yellow tier — the least restrictive in the state’s reopening plan — but the county would have to maintain those numbers as well as record less than one new daily case per 100,000 for three consecutive weeks to move into the minimal infection tier.
Unlike Orange County, which also qualified for the orange tier and updated its health order on Wednesday, L.A. County officials elected to wait for the full three weeks before transitioning into a less restrictive tier.
“We need this third week to make sure that we’re not seeing an increase in cases,” said L.A. Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer. “Remember this is still a virus that has a very long incubation period, so this week becomes critical. I am hopeful. I look around and I see lots of people following the rules.”
Ferrer said that a big reason for the decline in numbers is that more than 4 million L.A. County residents received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. In Glendale, about 49,420 people have received at least one dose of the vaccine as of March 26, which represents about 28.5% of the city’s total population. That compares to about a 31.6% vaccine rate in Burbank and a 40.5% in Pasadena.
Glendale Fire Department Chief Silvio Lanzas said he’s been proud to have witnessed the community’s vigilance over the past few months.
“The community has done a great job of heeding the warnings, following rules and wearing masks, and now we are seeing the results of that,” he said. “Our positivity rate is really low, and our three hospitals are doing a fantastic job treating the COVID patients they have right now.”
His department is intent on pursuing its new program to deliver vaccines to mobile sites and at private residents to homebound individuals. In partnership with Glendale Memorial Hospital, the department has vaccinated about 10 individuals every day with the one-shot Johnson & Johnson dose, and next week expects to double that daily number, Lanzas noted.
Lanzas is urging residents to seek out and get the vaccine to improve the city’s vaccination rate, which is trailing nearby communities.
“We’ve seen some hesitation to get the vaccine, or some people will want one kind but not another,” he said. “My message is that all three vaccines are very effective and been proven to prevent serious complications or death from COVID. When people ask me, ‘Which vaccine should I get?’, my message is very clear: Take the first one you can get.”
As far as reopening stipulations, bars that do not provide meals will be allowed to open outdoors with restrictions, but breweries, wineries and distilleries that don’t serve food can remain open outdoors and also open indoors at 25% capacity or 100 people, whichever is fewer.
Theme parks can finally re-open at 25% capacity, and outdoor sporting events and live performances are now allowed with 33% capacity.
Restaurants and movie theaters can increase capacity to 50% or 200 people, whichever is less. Museums, zoos and aquariums can also open at 50% capacity and places of worship can hold service indoors at 50% capacity.
Fitness centers can operate indoors at 25% capacity and indoor pools can re-open. Bowling alleys can also open at 25% and salons can increase capacity to 75%.
County officials expanded eligibility for the vaccine to residents age 50-64 on Thursday, regardless of medical condition or employment sector. An estimated 1.4 million residents in this group still need receive their first dose. Eligibility will then expand to all residents (ages 16 and older) beginning Thursday, April 15.
A recent study done by the Centers for Disease Control confirms the vaccines significantly reduced the risk of infection. One dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines were 80% effective in preventing the coronavirus among 4,000 health-care personnel, first responders and front-line workers, and that protection increased to 90% after a second dose. None of the participants in the trials had previously been infected with COVID-19.
“This study showed that the vaccine is highly effective not just preventing hospitalizations and deaths, but it showed that the vaccines are also very effective in preventing infections in real life conditions,” Ferrer said. “The findings in this study are significant and they’re providing mounting evidence that the vaccines can reduce both transmission and save lives.”
Vaccinations and adhering to health guidelines will be critical in preventing California suffering from another surge. Many states have seen a spike in COVID-19 cases the past week and CDC’s most recent data showed that the seven-day average of new cases in the nation has gone up 10%. Hospitalizations and deaths have also gone up.
In a White House briefing on Monday, CDC Director Rochelle Walensky described a feeling of “impending doom” after providing the updated data.
“We have so much to look forward to, so much promise and potential of where we are and so much reason for hope. But right now, I’m scared,” she said.
Ferrer was more optimistic on Tuesday but urged L.A. County residents to get vaccinated and continue practicing social distancing and wearing masks.
“We can’t let our guard down,” Ferrer said. “Another surge in L.A. County would be dangerous and it would stop our recovering progress cold. We would move swiftly to introduce measures to limit transmission and these measures would have us stepping backwards.”
The biggest concern at the moment is spring break, which is typically a time when families go on vacation.
“That is the Achilles heel right now,” Ferrer said. “So many people have been traveling and if those people come back and they fail to do that 10-day self-quarantine, we’re going to be in trouble and we’re going to have more spread [of the virus] than we really ought to have and it could set us back on that recovery journey.”
Lanzas, meanwhile, urged Glendale residents to remain vigilant: “Although things are looking better we cannot let our guard down. This holiday weekend, please follow the guidelines and socialize only with members of your household. If you do decide to share the day, do it outside, with masks and with only up to three households total.”
Glendale seniors 65 or older and homebound individuals interested in receiving the vaccine can call the mobile vaccine number at (818) 550-5617.
Camila Castellanos contributed to this report.