By CBSLA Staff

LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) — Case rates of COVID-19 have improved in Los Angeles and Orange counties, which are both poised to advance to the red, or second strictest, tier of reopening in California.

The state-adjusted average rate of daily new COVID-19 cases has dropped to 5.2 per 100,000 people in Los Angeles County, which may advance as soon as the state reaches the threshold of administering 2 million vaccine doses in hard-hit communities statewide.

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Los Angeles County was one of the hardest hit by COVID-19 in the nation and had not approached red tier numbers since the state introduced the reopening schedule last summer. If case rates remain under 7 new cases per 100,000 people and test positivity stays under 8%, the soonest Los Angeles County can move to the red tier is on March 17 — which happens to be St. Patrick’s Day.

However, Public Health Director Dr. Barbara Ferrer warned that with the potential for a fourth surge in cases, the county runs the risk of delaying the end of the pandemic if transmission is not reduced while vaccination numbers continue to ramp up.

“This is especially true during this time of year when students are on spring break and we prepare to celebrate spring holidays,” Ferrer said in a briefing for the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors.

Ferrer suggested that the county may not immediately authorize business reopenings that would be allowed in the red tier, most notably indoor dining. She has cited the CDC’s findings that on-premises restaurant dining contributes to increases in COVID cases and deaths. But some board members do not want to impose additional restrictions and want to stick with the state’s red tier reopening guidelines.

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“I think to be different than that right now would cause confusion and probably a lot of anger, because there are so many venues out there, entities, that have really suffered and are waiting to get a few more of these restrictions lifted,” Supervisor Janice Hahn said.

As for Orange County, case rates are in the red tier range, and its positivity rates are in the orange tier. If Orange County can maintain those rates through Sunday, it can graduate to the red tier by next Wednesday.

“Thanks to the diligence of our residents and business operators, we’re on the cusp of moving to the red tier, but we must remember not to let our guard down and continue adhering to local health guidance,” Orange County Supervisor Andrew Do said in a statement.

Orange County’s case rate had improved to the point of being able to move into the red tier last September, easing restrictions on store capacities and allowing some indoor dining. However, the winter surge prompted a regional stay-at-home order, putting a kibosh on even outdoor dining.

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(© Copyright 2021 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. City News Service contributed to this report.)