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Los Angeles County on Monday saw its biggest single-day spike in the coronavirus pandemic with 25 new cases reported, bringing the total number to 94.
The news was announced by L.A. County Department of Public Health Director Dr. Barbara Ferrer at a press conference with other city leaders, during which they outlined new protocols and measures being taken countywide to help flatten the curve of transmissions. It came on the heels of extreme and unprecedented measures announced Sunday night by L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti in closing movie theaters, nightclubs, bars, bowling alleys and arcades, while restaurants are limited to take-out and delivery service only.
At Monday’s press conference, L.A. County Board of Supervisors Director Kathryn Barger said the county — comprised of major cities such as Los Angeles, Santa Monica, Beverly Hills, Pasadena, West Hollywood, Culver City, Glendale, Burbank, Santa Clarita, Marina del Rey and beach cities like Manhattan and Redondo — is following the same protocols and will require the shuttering of bars, clubs, theaters, entertainment centers and fitness centers “until further notice.” Grocery stores may remain open, while restaurants across the county can serve take-out and delivery. Furthermore, gatherings of more than 50 are “strongly discouraged” as the county follows guidance from the Centers for Disease Control.
Barger also announced several measures her department is taking. Those include: working with utility and service providers to waive late fees; working with banks and mortgage lenders to waive late fees and avoid foreclosure activities; and working with healthcare providers over the rollout of telemedicine options to help lessen the burden on emergency rooms and urgent care facilities.
Of the 25 new coronavirus cases in L.A. County, five have an unidentified source and “therefore we assume community exposure,” Ferrer said. Of the others: One individual acquired the novel virus after travel in an “outbreak area”; one new case was announced by the city of Pasadena; 17 cases are under investigation; and only two individuals are currently hospitalized. As with all new cases, Ferrer explained that those individuals are currently isolated as are their close contacts.
“We’re in a new stage of the response,” she continued. “You must assume that you need to take these [social distancing] precautions everywhere you go. If something is not an essential activity, I urge you to please not do it. Social distancing is best tool we have and everybody has to help us to avoid nonessential activities.”
Ferrer then doubled down on social distancing guidelines (a recommended distance of six feet), directing the public to visit the Frequently Asked Questions tab on the county’s website for clarification on the term, which has become one of the most widely discussed amid the outbreak. In recent days, Public Health has issued guidelines for residents to follow, including avoiding non-essential travel, public gatherings and places where large groups of people congregate. Event organizers were told to postpone or cancel non-essential gatherings of 250 or more until at least the end of March. Smaller events are fine, officials say, if organizers can implement social distancing of six feet per person.
Other speakers at the press conference included Kevin McGowan, director of the Office of Emergency Management, who announced measures his department is taking particularly to help with supportive housing during what has been declared a national emergency. Supportive housing is meant to aid residents who can’t quarantine or self-isolate in their residences or those who are currently without residence.
McGowan said officials have set up supportive housing at Dockweiler Beach — a move that had been rumored in recent days — and have reserved local hotels where they are able to lease entire facilities so that they can have capacity in place to support people who need to be isolated. He did not name those hotels or provide an area of the county where the hotels are located. “I would like to emphasize the importance of this emergency requires us to approach through the lens of community helping community,” said McGowan.
L.A. County Health Services Director Dr. Christina Ghaly offered updates from her team: Hospitals across the area are activating surge plans should locations see an increase in cases, she said. In order to do that, elective surgeries are being postponed and some patients are being discharged if they are ready. “As more people get tested and we see more incidents of community spread as Dr. Ferrer mentioned, COVID-19 will undoubtedly place a strain on the health care system across the county.” she said. “However, we are very fortunate that the L.A. County system of hospitals and clinics is well prepared for emergencies such as these.”
Ferrer also was asked about the possibility that L.A. County would implement a “shelter-in-place” ordinance, similar to the one announced Monday in parts of Northern California including the counties of San Francisco, Marin, Santa Clara, San Mateo, Alameda and Contra Costa as well as the city of Berkeley. She said they don’t not have any plans as of right now.
“We don’t have the same trajectory as they have up north and we’re doing everything we can in the hopes that we can slow the spread enough not to self quarantine,” said Ferrer. “Everyone who is 65 and older [should] immediately take steps to stay home. Our hope is that we protect our most vulnerable and that our hospital systems remains vibrant. We, too, will be watching the numbers. Nothing is off the table anywhere for anybody in the United States right now.”
Ferrer also fielded a question that has been widely bandied about as many across the world look to the summer months that bring warmer temperatures in many countries, conditions known to lessen the spread of many flu and virus bugs. So, what will happen to coronavirus come June or July? “I want to be hopeful and I know everyone else does also,” she said with a huge smile on her face, before getting serious. “We have no experience with [coronavirus]. None of us have immunity, which is why it’s so concerning. No one has any idea how the virus will be impacted when the weather gets warm. We will keep watch and remain hopeful.”
Ferrer said it could be three to four weeks before L.A. County starts seeing a decrease in the number of new cases, and that is after these “extraordinarily aggressive” measures have been taken: “Please don’t lose heart, please don’t say, ‘I’m doing all of this but the numbers are keep going up so…why bother? We should all get to go to the movies again.’ Please don’t do that. Have confidence from a public health perspective. We know this will work. It will definitely take some time.”
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