L.A. County Officials Order Unprecedented Closure of Beaches, Trails and Bike Paths

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The drastic order was announced during Friday's press conference, during which health officials reported five deaths and 257 newly diagnosed coronavirus cases.

After seeing residents flock to hiking trails, bike paths and beaches in Venice, Santa Monica and Malibu last weekend, Los Angeles County officials on Friday announced an unprecedented closure order to block the public from congregating in those areas in order to curb the ongoing spread of the novel coronavirus. 

The order, which will be enforced and is effective immediately, applies to public trails and trailheads, beaches, piers, beach bike paths and beach access points in L.A. County through April 19. It marks yet another drastic measure amid the pandemic, which has already resulted in the shuttering of nearly all public facilities including sports venues, movie theaters, gyms and other nonessential businesses. L.A. County Department of Public Health Director Dr. Barbara Ferrer announced the order during Friday's press briefing in downtown Los Angeles from the Board of Supervisors headquarters where she was joined by Gary Jones, director of L.A. County Department of Beaches and Harbors.

In terms of enforcement, Jones said it "will take shape of many forms across the different jurisdictions that comprise the Los Angeles coastline," adding that his team will be relying on Beaches and Harbors staff who will, at first, be acting as public information sources and goodwill ambassadors as they attempt to spread the word about the first-ever order. "The coastline is long with lots of access points, so we really need people to follow this order that it is for [everyone's] benefit," said Jones.

He said the move follows what officials witnessed last weekend when "thousands of people" were congregating on beaches and paths, something he called unsafe during the pandemic. His department already took measures to curb beach activity by cutting down volleyball nets and closing parking lots but it was "not enough," said Jones. The closure will also affect the shuttering of all beachside amenities including restrooms and paths. "We cannot afford to see a repeat of crowded beaches this holiday weekend," he said. "The risk of spreading COVID-19 is too great." 

"You cannot use our public outdoor spaces across the county — as beautiful as they are," Ferrer noted. "I know how hard this is and I know how isolated everyone feels. We are in this together and if we do this well, we stand a chance."

In a statement, L.A. County Supervisor Janice Hahn called the crowds at local beaches unacceptable: “In order to save lives, beaches in L.A. County will be temporarily closed. I understand that this is a huge sacrifice for everyone who enjoys going to our beaches. But we cannot risk another sunny weekend with crowds at the beach spreading this virus. This closure is temporary and we can always reopen these beaches when it is safe to do so.” 

The announcement of the order came after Ferrer updated the last coronavirus case count in L.A. County with five additional deaths — all individuals over the age of 60, including four men and one woman — and 257 newly diagnosed cases. Over the last 48 hours, Ferrer noted that there have been 678 additional cases for a total case count of 1,465. As of yesterday, 11,000 have been tested in L.A. County, translating to 11 percent of positive cases. Asked to comment on the fluctuations in the numbers — on Thursday there were 421 additions to the coronavirus case county and Friday only 257 — and Ferrer said it’s because labs are still figuring out their testing capacities, hence why she leans on 48-hour numbers and providing six-day aggregates that are more accurate.

“In less than a week, only six days, we have gone from 409 to 1465 cases. We have more than tripled the number of people who are positive for COVID-19,” Ferrer said, an increase that reflects improved access to testing. Even with some increases, critics have attacked the process, saying that Angelenos still don’t have enough access to get coronavirus testing.

For days now, Ferrer and other city and county leaders have acknowledged the frustration around testing and the delays patients have experienced in receiving results. As of Thursday, she said 11,000 people have been tested in a city of more than 10 million. A city website that offers residents the chance to schedule a test has been overloaded and for the past 48 hours at least has not offered any availability. On what was to be the opening day of Major League Baseball, a Dodger Stadium parking lot was just one of a handful sites across the county that had been converted into a drive-thru testing location. But for now, it’s being reserved for first responders and those on the front line of the crisis.

Other notable data points: The majority of people in L.A. County who are very ill or who have died are over the age of 60; of 1,465 cases, 317 at some point have been hospitalized, reflecting 22 percent of all positive cases; currently 70 individuals are hospitalized; mortality rate is 1.8 percent, higher than the figures being reported out of New York or the U.S. as a whole; and age ranges for those infected include 0 to 17 (22), 18 to 40 (547), 41 to 65 (565) and over 65 (268).

Ferrer also provided an update on the 14 institutional settings that health officials are investigating for possible outbreaks. Those settings are nursing homes and care facilities where at least one person has tested positive. Across the 14 institutions, there have been 35 positive cases with three of those facilities reporting at least three or more. She named them for the first time Friday: The Kensington Redondo Beach, Belmont Village Senior Living in Hollywood and Alameda Care Center in Burbank. 

One journalist asked Ferrer to comment on reports that some restaurants were being investigated by health officials over pivoting to grocery-style businesses, such as selling bulk takeout or frozen foods in an attempt to maintain sales amid devastating closure orders. Ferrer said that licensing requirements have not been relaxed during the pandemic because those are in place “to protect all of us.” She added that “we would love to have flexibility but not at the cost of creating additional exposure with germs.” 

A journalist from the Los Angeles Times asked Ferrer to comment on a University of Washington study that reported a possible peak of coronavirus cases in California coming April 24. While she acknowledged the disadvantages health officials face due to lack of testing and the delay of receiving results, she did say that it would not be “unreasonable” to see three more weeks of numbers increasing locally. “Those projections are probably on target,” she added. “We are going to see a doubling of cases every four to six days and you can see we are likely to have a lot of people that are going to be infected over the next three weeks. The most important thing for public to know on the modeling is to understand the seriousness of what lies in front of us."

Friday's briefing capped off a week of daily press conferences from state, city and county leaders. Ferrer's updates always receive a fair share of attention as she has been leading the way with updating the public on the latest case counts in the county and the number of fatalities. Ferrer was appointed as director of the department in January 2017, coming to L.A. County after serving as chief strategy officer of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, as well as executive director of the Boston Public Health Commission. At Thursday's briefing, Supervisor Hilda Solis praised her for having the "extremely hard job" of stepping to the podium every day during a crisis to deliver the heavy headlines. "I want to recognize her leadership, tenacity and ability to give information calmly," she said.

That information, at least this week, has been rapid accelerations in the number of coronavirus cases as health leaders have ramped up testing across the county. Earlier this week, Councilmember David Ryu announced that, after working "around the clock" with city and county partners to secure test kits to combat the virus, L.A. County had struck a deal with South Korean firm Seegene Technologies Inc. to provide 20,000 new coronavirus tests. Those kits have been prioritized for first responders, medical professionals and those on the front lines in the battle to flatten the curve. During Friday’s briefing, L.A. County Supervisor Kathryn Barger was asked about those tests and she said they have not all been administered.

According to the latest data, there are 587,958 confirmed cases of coronavirus across the globe with 26,909 deaths. On Thursday, the U.S. became the most impacted country with more than 100,390 cases currently and 1,543 deaths. Italy, however, has recorded the most deaths, with 9,134 compared with a total 86,498 case count.