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San Luis Obispo County Tentatively Approved for Wider Reopening Next Week

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SLO is the first greater Southern California county approved to move into a less-restrictive tier, but with coronavirus cases falling fast, more are likely on the way

Tourists watching Elephant Seals, Piedras Blancas, San Simeon, San Luis Obispo County, California
Tourists overlooking a beach in San Luis Obispo County pre-pandemic
Photo by: Citizen of the Planet/Education Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Southern California is slowly emerging from a very dark and devastating winter coronavirus surge and looks to be headed for a broader reopening in the coming weeks. Yesterday, state officials announced a slew of new county progressions into less-restrictive tiers, paving the way for things like increased capacity at restaurants, the return of some indoor gyms, the reopening of mall food courts, and more. And while none of the five counties officially allowed to reopen this week were in Southern California (boo, NorCal), the state did offer a “preview” list of seven other counties that could progress to the lower red tier next week.

Among those on the “preview” list is San Luis Obispo County up on the Central Coast, long a popular weekend destination for Angelenos looking to embrace wine country and coastal living. As a result of the county’s rolling geography and much lower population density, the county has fared much better than even nearby neighbors like Santa Barbara and Ventura counties in containing COVID-19.

If SLO’s current case rate continues, it should be able to enter into the new, lower red tier by next Tuesday. Officials there don’t want to take any chances, though, and are asking for more county residents to get tested this week to broaden the range of data in hopes of driving the overall test positivity rate even lower. Currently, the county’s adjusted case rate is 9.4 per 100,000 residents, just over the threshold of seven cases per 100,000 residents needed for further reopening.

So where does this leave other near-to-Los Angeles counties like Kern, Riverside, Santa Barbara, and Orange? None of them appear on the state’s projected reopening list for this coming week, but several counties could move to the lower red tier as soon as March, if cases continue to decline. For example, Orange County’s adjusted case rate is 11.9 per 100,000 residents, with a 5.4 percent test positivity rate; Los Angeles County is at 12.3 cases per 100,000 residents, and a 5.1 percent test positivity rate. Both metrics are vital for counties to be granted greater reopening privileges by state public health officials. The thresholds for each color-coded tier can be seen below.

A graphic showing different color codes for statewide California reopenings based on coronavirus data.

It’s become increasingly clear to many public health experts that the deadly winter COVID-19 surge in Southern California has dramatically positioned the region for a broad reopening moving into spring, in part because so many people have unfortunately contracted the virus. Just yesterday, Los Angeles County moved past 20,000 coronavirus deaths. Add in the ongoing push for vaccinations within the county, and it’s easy to understand why cases have been falling so precipitously of late. Add to that the recent confirmation that restaurant and other food industry workers will be prioritized for vaccines starting on March 1, and there’s certainly reason for some limited optimism within the hospitality industry at large.

However, it’s important to note that the county’s vaccination efforts have been far from seamless, as many mass vaccination sites have had to go dark for lack of vaccines, and news outlets have widely reported about unequal vaccine distribution that has left many people of color behind. That’s all to say that Los Angeles has a long way to go before getting back to “normal,” though by now it’s obvious within the restaurant industry and beyond that normal no longer exists.

With COVID-19 Cases Falling Fast, When Will LA Begin to More Fully Reopen? [ELA]

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