L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti Limits Public Gatherings to 50, Cautions Public on Panic: "Don't Lose Your Heads"

Los Angeles County - Press Conference- Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer -Publicity Board of Supervisors-  H 2020
Courtesy of David Franco/Board of Supervisors

Be smart, practice social distancing and keep calm.

Those were just a few of the messages coming out of Thursday's press conference — the largest so far with Los Angeles city leaders amid the growing coronavirus outbreak — where Mayor Eric Garcetti, Sheriff Alex Villanueva, Supervisor Hilda Solis, L.A. County Department of Public Health director Barbara Ferrer, L.A. County Board of Supervisors chair Kathryn Barger, L.A. Unified School District Superintendent Austin Beutner and others outlined the latest efforts, protocols and advice for residents.

It was Ferrer who later gave the update (at a separate briefing) that there have been three new cases of COVID-19 reported overnight, bringing the total number of cases to 32. That includes four cases reported in Long Beach and one new case reported in Pasadena. Out of the three new cases, only one of those individuals is now hospitalized. 

The comments also came less than 12 hours after California Gov. Gavin Newsom instituted a limit on public gatherings of more than 250 to help contain the disease. The conference also came on a day dominated by a barrage of cancellations, from the NCAA's March Madness basketball tournament to Broadway shows. Perhaps to counter the latest headlines, Garcetti opened his comments with optimism, saying how much he believes in Los Angeles after seeing how residents have responded to earthquakes, fires and unrest. Then he got serious: "Unlike the heroism we saw recently in the fires, [in this case] each one of us is a first responder."

"Coronavirus is here. Your actions can help us flatten that curve, literally buying us days and weeks to get to a moment when the virus is less of a threat," the mayor continued. “We all have people that we know who are immunocompromised. People being treated for cancer or who have existing diseases. We have seniors and others who are most vulnerable. These are our parents, our grandparents, our neighbors, our co-workers and the action you take or don’t take could decide the fate of their lives."

Garcetti then detailed a list of mandates that he sent to L.A. department heads using Gov. Newsom’s guidelines of limiting large scale public gatherings to 250, but he went "a step further." Commencing immediately, city officials have been instructed to postpone or cancel all non-essential public community events or group activities that require close contact and meetings with 50 or more people; all events or conferences on city-owned property that are anticipated to have over 50 people have been banned; general managers have been ordered to develop plans to stagger visitors at public buildings to no more than 50 at a time; hand washing and sanitizing stations will be made available in public properties with extra care taken to clean all facilities thoroughly; and a stop on all non-essential travel on all city employees, domestic and foreign, has been instituted.

Until the emergency ends, Garcetti added that all board and commission meetings will be transitioned to phone and/or video conference sessions. Further, City Hall will be closed to all non-city employees. "These are common sense measures to ensure that we do everything we can." The mayor then added his voice to the chorus calling on federal leaders to “act swiftly” in terms of getting additional coronavirus test kits but also to enact legislation to help lessen the blow economically, in part by extending sick leave and unemployment benefits for those most vulnerable. 

Garcetti then offered a suggestion and a personal reveal of his Thursday night dinner plans: Order food from a local restaurant. "If you’re going to go out dinner, maybe you don’t go out to dinner but order out of that restaurant. Let’s prop up those local business that are here in Los Angeles. I’m certainly going to do that with my family tonight," he said.

Garcetti closed by saying be good to one another. Oh, and no need to buy bottled water: "If you live in the city of Los Angeles, Department of Water and Power water is actually — long before this crisis — even cleaner than bottled water and is clean today. Don’t lose your heads. Ask for help. Say thanks to those on the front lines and be smart. Make those decisions that will save a life." 

In terms of other news, Barger said next week’s Board of Supervisors meeting has been canceled, and they’re looking to reschedule county events that exceed the "large scale criteria." Already off the books is the L.A. County Air Show in Antelope Valley. "These actions are not intended to create panic or fear," she added, but “rather this is about mitigation and containment.”

Solis had harsh words for those online who have been disseminating rumors and information about the location (both hospitals and areas of L.A.) of those who have tested positive for the virus: "This is in direct violation of the law. There’s good reason we haven’t disclosed location of patients. … We must maintain confidentiality and … protect patient privacy."

Solis then said that she’s going to "explore" delaying April property tax billings in order to lessen the financial stress many Angelenos may be feeling.

Ferrer reiterated that “the virus knows no geographic boundaries and does not affect one race over another," and she was one of several at the podium speaking out on incidents of racial profiling amidst the coronavirus outbreak, incidents that have been traced to its origin in China. "This is not the time for racism or stigmatization of certain groups."

Ferrer then stressed the importance of creating and implementing a plan to deal with the outbreak: "The plan needs to be bold and the plan needs to be aggressive." She also mentioned the need for people to practice safe distancing from others in large groups. "Other diseases we have vaccinations," said Ferrer. "When you don’t have vaccinations, you have social distancing — that’s the ability we all have if we do this well to not congregate to expose people."

Superintendent Beutner said there have been no cases at any of L.A. Unified's schools and thus they are continuing to work to mitigate the impact of what's happening by cleaning schools extensively and thoroughly — including coffee pots in teacher's lounges.