Despite concerns over a possible rise in COVID-19 cases from the Labor Day weekend, the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health (Public Health) has released figures showing progress in key indicators, including positivity rates, hospitalizations and deaths. This report comes as Public Health announced plans to reduce restrictions on shopping malls, nail salons, and schools.

“To everyone who is mourning people who have passed away from COVID-19, we keep you in our thoughts and in our hearts,” said Director of Public Health Dr. Barbara Ferrer in a statement. “As more businesses and schools are reopening, let’s remind each other that diligence in slowing the spread of COVID-19 has brought us to a place where these openings are possible.”

As of Oct. 1, the County reported 1, 148 new cases with a total of 271,371. The County also registered 35 deaths, putting it at a total of 6,610 since the beginning of the pandemic. Beverly Hills saw 27 new cases, bringing the City to a total of 700.

Public Health noted that deaths have continued to decline to levels not seen since April. The agency attributed this to declining numbers of cases and hospitalizations, and improvements in treatment for COVID-19 patients. Also, Public Health has observed an increase in the ratio of infections among younger individuals who are less likely to die as a result. This also brings down the daily average of deaths.

Another bright metric, the County has seen a significant decline in the percentage of tests coming back positive. While the County was clocking an average of 8 percent in July, that figure has dropped to about 3 percent in September. This is the lowest test positivity rate seen since the beginning of the pandemic.

Heartened by the numbers, Public Health announced on Sept. 30 that nail salons and indoor shopping malls will be allowed to reopen at 25 percent capacity, although mall food courts and common areas will remain closed. In order to avoid  a potential crush of cases, Public Health is staggering the reopenings. Nail salons can resume business under State guidelines starting Oct. 1. Indoor malls must wait until Oct. 7.  The move comes after multiple lawsuits against the County for the closures, the most recent filed on Sept. 28 by the owner of the Westfield chain of malls.

Public Health also said that cardrooms could reopen for outdoor gaming starting Oct. 5. Outdoor playgrounds may reopen at the approval and discretion of cities and the County Parks and Recreation Department. Parents and children ages 2-years-old and older must wear masks and follow social distancing rules. Indoor playgrounds remained closed.

On Sept. 29, Public Health announced plans to allow for school waiver applications for grades TK-2. The announcement came one day after a vote on the matter by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors. Public Health will begin accepting applications in early October for 30 schools per week, with priority given to schools that serve underprivileged student bodies.

“We will be reviewing waiver applications meticulously so that we can be assured that the schools have the protocols in place that will minimize COVID-19 spread as much as possible,” Ferrer said in a Sept. 29 statement.

Despite the improvements, LA County remains in the State’s most restrictive category for reopening, Tier 1. Public Health explained in its Sept. 29 statement that its daily case rate of 7.3 is still too high.

“In order to keep businesses and schools open and progress to Tier 2, we need to continue to be extraordinarily cautious and to use all of the tools we have that have been proven to reduce transmission.”

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