Los Angeles & Orange Counties Resume Reopening

There’s good news for Southern California! Thanks to plummeting cases and positivity rates coupled with soaring vaccination numbers, both Los Angeles and Orange Counties have re-entered the red tier of the state’s Blueprint for a Safer Economy on March 15, 2021.

California’s system for reopening is a four-tier, color coded classification that was introduced last fall to replace the previous watch list approach. Rather than the statewide “all or nothing” system, this will allow for partial openings in areas where transmission rates and numbers are lower. These tiers are re-evaluated every Tuesday, with counties moving up or down based upon their progress or regression.

Los Angeles and Orange County had been preparing to move from the most-restrictive purple tier to the red tier by next week, but the timetable was moved forward thanks to California meeting its goal of inoculating two million Californians in underprivileged communities, which triggered the first of two rule relaxations…

Under California’s plan, counties are placed into four color-coded tiers based on positivity rates and cases per 100,000 residents in their communities. The red tier allows for many more businesses to reopen. For example, retail stores can allow for half capacity instead of 25%, and museums, zoos and aquariums can reopen for indoor activities at 25% capacity, as can movie theaters, gyms, and restaurants.

Here are California’s four tiers, including the current requirements (above) and the loosened rules once California reaches 4 million vaccination doses in the vaccine equity metric (below), which is likely to happen in April 2021:

Every county in California is assigned to a tier based on its positivity rate, adjusted case rate, and health equity metric. Counties must remain in a tier for at least 3 weeks before moving to a less restrictive tier. Counties must meet the next tier’s criteria for two consecutive weeks to move to a less restrictive tier. If a county’s metrics worsen for two consecutive weeks, it will be assigned a more restrictive tier.

The good news is that both Los Angeles County and Orange County now move into the red/substantial tier after being in the purple/widespread tier since last November. Here’s a look at current data from California’s Blueprint for a Safer Economy, which was revised (again) in March 2021.

With spring break underway and the summer tourist season on the horizon, many of you might be wondering how this impacts travel to Southern California. Well, that’s complicated. At present, there is a travel advisory in place for California, which was issued last November during the holiday surge.

Pursuant to this, Californians are encouraged to remain local, not traveling more than 120 miles from their home or other place of residence, and avoid non-essential travel. Travelers from other states or countries entering into California for tourism and recreation are strongly discouraged. If you do travel into California, you are advised to self-quarantine for 10 days after arrival, and limit your interactions.

It’s worth reiterating that this travel advisory was implemented last November, right as California’s case numbers skyrocketed to the highest in the United States. Prior to that, the state never had a travel advisory or quarantine recommendation.

With cases now plummeting and vaccine rollout accelerates, our expectation is that California will drop this travel advisory at some point in the near future. That may not happen immediately, especially with troublesome variants presenting a wildcard. However, we’d expect the quarantine recommendation to be relaxed–or at least dropped for those who are vaccinated–before Memorial Day.

Travelers to Los Angeles and Orange County are likely primarily concerned by how this will impact shopping, restaurants, museums, beaches, theme parks, and of course, eating at In-N-Out Burger. (Regardless of whether the dining rooms are open, highly recommend eating outdoors at In-N-Out Burger. The rustling palms and crisp California air pair perfectly with a Double Double!)

Even before this update for Orange County, many aspects of California were able to reopen. As discussed in our Ultimate Laguna Beach Planning Guide, things are mostly back to normal there from a visitor perspective. Beaches are now open for all uses with face mask recommendations and physical distancing required.

Beyond beaches, some retail and restaurants have already reopened, with indoor shopping and outdoor dining previously allowed. Some local theme parks had adapted to resume operations under that as well, with Knott’s Berry Farm, Universal Studios Hollywood, and Disneyland all doing ticketed “foodie” events for March and April 2021.

Speaking of which, the big question mark for many visitors is when Disney’s California theme parks will open with rides. We address that at length and offer a predicted reopening date in When Will Disneyland Reopen? Suffice to say, now that Orange County’s risk level has been downgraded, we expect an official announcement from Disney this week or next about a reopening date in late April 2021.

Orange County has been seeing swift progress and only was in the purple tier previously because it didn’t quite meet one of the metrics. California hitting 2 million vaccine doses administered to the hardest-hit communities statewide (Vaccine Equity Metric), representing about twenty-five (25%) of eligible Californians.

If downward trends continue, Orange County can expect to move to the even more relaxed orange tier for “moderate” risk by April 2021. Both that target and the yellow tier will be significantly easier to reach once California has administered 4 million vaccines to hard-hit communities.

Orange County health officials have cautioned against being overly optimistic that this will happen without continued diligence, adherence to health safety recommendations, mitigation measures by Californians.

There is some concern about spring break gatherings, which could cause another wave of cases in the next few weeks similar to the ones that followed past gatherings and the first round of business reopenings. On a more optimistic note, following that false start, there was not a pronounced spike caused by the Super Bowl. Here’s hoping the same is true for post-spring break numbers.

Ultimately, good news for locals in Los Angeles and Orange County, as California continues its slow and methodical economic reopening after a false start last year. Beyond the above concerns, there’s the hope–and realistic possibility–that the United States’ ever-improving vaccination efforts will help the country “outrun” variants or any spikes that might otherwise occur due to relaxed rules. While those who want to visit California still might want to hold off (and everyone should assess their own risk and safety before making any plans), the summer should be a good time to visit!

If you’re planning a California vacation, check out our California category of posts for other things to do and our Daily Itineraries for Southern California & Los Angeles. If you enjoyed this post, help spread the word by sharing it via social media. Thanks for reading!

Your Thoughts

Do you plan on traveling to California in the near future, or will you wait until this is all in the rearview mirror? Think Los Angeles and Orange Counties’ declining numbers and improved status are cause for optimism? Do you expect vaccine rollout to continue the downward case and positivity trends? Concerned about a fourth wave due to the reopening? Disappointed or glad that California’s reopening process has been slow and drawn out? Any questions about planning a visit to Southern California? Hearing from readers is half the fun, so please share your thoughts and questions in the comments below!

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