LOS ANGELES (CNS) - Another 40-plus coronavirus deaths were reported in Los Angeles County today, as local shopping malls began reopening their doors thanks to loosened health restrictions and county officials awaited word from the state on the possible return of dine-in restaurants and hair salons.
The county Department of Public Health announced 48 more fatalities from COVID-19, although six of those deaths were actually reported Wednesday afternoon by health officials in Long Beach.
The new fatalities lifted the county's death toll to 2,241.
County health officials also announced another 1,094 confirmed cases of the illness, bringing the total to 49,774.
The new cases were announced as more businesses took advantage of relaxed health restrictions and began welcoming customers inside.
Thousands of residents weary of curbside-only shopping -- or perhaps just looking for a chance to get out of the house -- made their way to malls such as the Citadel Outlets in Commerce and the Glendale Galleria Thursday, taking advantage of the newly reopened retail centers.
Only select stores inside the malls were open as of Thursday, and operating hours were limited. But that didn't keep the public away.
A woman shopping at the Citadel Outlets told Fox11 she was surprised at the crowd that showed up, but she felt comfortable inside thanks to capacity controls and cleaning efforts.
"I love the fact that they're sanitizing after every customer," she said.
In line with state regulations, Los Angeles County issued a revised health order on Tuesday, allowing retail establishments to resume in-store shopping by customers. It also cleared the way for store inside indoor shopping malls to reopen, along with offices, flea markets, swap meets, drive-in movie theaters and houses of worship.
The loosening of restrictions prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic was expressed clearly by the county, which changed the name of its health officer order from "Safer at Home" to "Safer at Work and in the Community."
The order, however, continues to require residents to wear cloth face coverings when interacting with people outside their own households. It also calls for continued social-distancing. Reopened businesses also must adhere to strict safety protocols, requiring face coverings, limited capacity inside stores and hand-washing and -sanitizing stations.
Other Southland shopping malls are expected to reopen over the coming days. The Beverly Center will reopen Friday, and Westfield Century City will open Saturday.
Los Angeles County officials this week submitted a request to the state for a local "variance," which would allow the county to move deeper into California's "roadmap" for restarting the economy. Most notably, the variance would allow the county to authorize the reopening of hair salons and restaurants for dine-in service.
It was not immediately clear how long it will take the state to review the county's application for the variance.
Los Angeles is one of only about a dozen counties in the state not to be given such a variance. The state issues them based on a series of criteria, such as coronavirus case rates and deaths, availability of hospital space, testing capacity and ability to trace contacts of confirmed patients.
The county has been stymied in its effort to obtain a variance, since it remains home to about half of the state's confirmed coronavirus cases and deaths. But health officials said this week that even though more cases and deaths are being reported, the rates are dropping, along with the number of people hospitalized on a daily basis.
"We feel very confident, and we feel very confident because all of the work everybody has already done to get us here," county public health
director Barbara Ferrer said Wednesday. "Hospitalizations are down. Deaths are down. The number of cases is up but that's a good thing ... because it means a lot more people are getting tested, but our positivity rate is also down.
"We do have to all go carefully, and by that I mean we all have to be diligent about doing whatever we can do to protect each other. But yes, I feel confident we're moving forward in a manner that's very respectful of the resources we have here and the need, in fact, for us to be on a reopening, safer-in-the-community-safer-at-work journey, but we have to be on this journey together."