LOS ANGELES - Coronavirus cases in California have topped 800,000, according to The Times' tracker, another milestone in a state that is leading the nation in infections.
The sobering figure comes as California has seen declines in both new cases and deaths over the last month after a summer spike that alarmed officials and prompted the reversal of some business reopenings.
California topped 15,000 COVID-19 deaths earlier this week and appears to have surpassed the death toll of Texas, which was reporting 15,267 fatalities as of Wednesday. But that number remains far below that of New York, which has recorded more than 33,000 deaths. New Jersey has reported more than 16,000 coronavirus-related deaths.
Earlier this week, the state announced that nail salons across California could reopen. Dr. Mark Ghaly, California's Health and Human Services Department director, said Tuesday that state officials have worked with business sector leaders and county officials to ensure that nail salons can operate indoors in low-risk environments. In some parts of the state, salons have been operating outdoors.
It is ultimately up to individual counties to allow businesses and other sectors to reopen after being given the green light by the state.
Los Angeles County, for example, has refrained from allowing operations to resume at indoor malls, despite having the state's permission to do so. County health officials have said that such changes will not come until late September, at the earliest, after data that would show whether there has been a Labor Day infection surge and the state's new reopening are assessed.
But overall, the decline in cases has allowed more sectors of California to slowly reopen.
This week, Orange County school districts serving more than 200,000 students opened. All the campuses are using hybrid schedules that allow only a portion of students back at one time while others learn online - to help maintain social distancing by keeping classes small. So far, the vast majority of families have opted to return to campus.
By Thursday, Tustin, Irvine, Fountain Valley and Cypress joined Los Alamitos Unified, which led the wave of openings with its elementary schools under a county-approved waiver. They will be followed next week by Capistrano, Saddleback, Orange, Newport-Mesa and Ocean View districts - a total of 10 of the county's 28 school districts.
Across the state, 33 counties with 478 school districts are eligible to reopen because of lower infection rates, said California Department of Education director of communications Daniel Thigpen. Of these, 56% are still online only - and not all have reported data to the state.
L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti said the next few weeks will be crucial if the city wants to see more reopenings.
"The bottom line: This virus is still here, and it's still very dangerous," said Garcetti, noting the uptick in hospitalizations, cases and the transmission rate in L.A. County.
If the positivity rate and the number of COVID-19 cases remain low, the county will be able to enter a new tier on the state's color-coded reopening blueprint, Garcetti said, which means fewer restrictions.
Los Angeles County is in Tier 1, which means schools and many businesses are closed. To progress through the tiered system, a county must meet certain thresholds for two consecutive weeks.
The mayor urged Angelenos to try to keep numbers low so the county can move into the new tier in early October.
In recent weeks, L.A. County officials have reported a decline in the number of COVID-19 infections, hospitalizations and deaths. The county's daily case count is currently seven cases per 100,000, and the seven-day average positivity rate is 3% - a notable drop from a reported 8% in July.
But over the last week, the number of cases has increased slightly, and the projected transmission rate has crept past 1% to 1.02%. It's possible those numbers are early indicators that there will be a spike in infections related to Labor Day weekend activity, but officials are not sure yet.
And as the state numbers continue to climb, there are still concerns California could be reopening too quickly.
Santa Clara County's health officer, Sara Cody, told supervisors this week that care is still needed.
"Remember, we're still at significant amounts of COVID spread, and we don't want to make the mistake that we collectively made earlier where we went a little bit too fast - and then spent the summer with quite a bit of COVID transmission," Cody said.
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