With coronavirus cases continuing to spike and concerns growing about people failing to heed social distancing requirements, Los Angeles County residents were living under stepped-up restrictions Monday, March 23, with beach parking lots closed in an effort to discourage large gatherings.
The heightened restrictions were announced over the weekend in response to reports of large numbers of people flocking to some beaches — most notably the Venice boardwalk — and hiking trails.
“Seriously people, you need to practice social distancing. I am seeing tons of people out there acting like there’s no crisis. You could be carrying the virus, have no symptoms, and be responsible for the illness or worse of others,” Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia wrote on his Twitter page.
Long Beach closed sports facilities in city parks and beaches and asked the community to not gather in open spaces.
In Malibu, the city’s official Twitter page posted, “The City of #Malibu is receiving reports of people enjoying the outdoors in Malibu. The County order requires that social distancing (6 feet between people) be practiced while outdoors.”
In a live-streamed remote news conference Sunday evening, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said that in consultation with the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, the city is closing the Venice boardwalk, beach parking lots and all organized group sports.
He reminded people to keep practicing social distancing, to stand at least six feet away from others. It’s a technique, he said, that will not only keep you safe but it will protect your loved ones and others as well.
Garcetti also told people not to take risks with their health. Santa Monica also closed its beach parking lots. All parks, trails and facilities owned by the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy have been closed to the public until further notice.
The increasing restrictions came as health officials announced the number of coronavirus cases in the county had topped 400, reaching 409, with five deaths. The most recent death was a person older than 65 who lived in Culver City, according to the county.
The number of cases increased by 71 on Sunday alone, the largest one- day jump the county has seen thus far.
California health officials on Monday reported 1,733 positive cases across the state, with 27 deaths.
The city of Lynwood announced on Twitter Sunday that a female patient at St. Francis Hospital died of COVID-19. The patient’s name was not immediately released. She was identified only as a woman who had come to the hospital feeling ill, and died shortly afterward.
“We are deeply sorry for the passing of loved ones and send our prayers to the families and friends of those who have died from COVID-19,” said Dr. Barbara Ferrer, Los Angeles County Public Health Director. “It is critical that everyone practices social distancing, obey the Safer at Home Health Officer Order and assume that anyone can have COVID-19, and anyone could unintentionally infect others. Please know that the actions you take today to stay 6 feet away from others and limit all non-essential activities outside your home are the best way for us to slow the spread of COVID-19 and save lives.”
East Los Angeles Community College, meanwhile, announced that one of its students tested positive for COVID-19. The student reported feeling possible symptoms the week prior and was tested on Wednesday. The student is in quarantine and reported to be doing well and is recovering.
“Out of an abundance of caution and guidance from public health protocols, all faculty and staff at East Los Angeles College who were previously scheduled to be on campus Monday, March 23 are now directed to work from home unless first contacted by their direct supervisor to report. […] All faculty and staff who are already working remotely should continue to do so.”
The school said in a statement that the student appears to have been exposed to the virus while at UCLA sometime during the week of March 8. The student reports last being at the ELAC campus 10 days ago on March 12 — from approximately 7:30am to 11am in G5 Building-RT room with computers and may have also visited the Student Store.
Meanwhile, the hospital ship USNS Mercy was expected to arrive shortly at the Port of Los Angeles, providing an extra 1,000 beds to house COVID-19 victims for treatment. Los Angeles County Supervisor Janice Hahn said Sunday there are fewer than 200 available intensive care unit beds countywide.
Garcetti said the city is moving the homeless into recreation centers and hopes to have 42 centers open for housing the homeless. He said the city is facing a shortage of medical personnel to staff the centers, which is critical to housing them safely.
He also announced that the city is setting up a fund to provide childcare for health workers, assistance for the needy and meals for seniors. The goal, he said, is to raise $25 million as soon as possible for the fund.
In response to concerns about continued public gatherings, the county’s public health department issued a revised “Safer At Home” order Saturday, which officials said was a step below a lockdown or shelter-in-place requirement. The previous order prohibited gatherings of 10 or more people, but the revised wording simply prohibits “all indoor and outdoor public and private gatherings and events.”
People who go out for shopping or essential jobs are required to remain at least six feet away from anyone else. Residents are still free to go outside for walks, hikes or bike rides, but not in large groups.
Saturday’s enhanced order also clarified that golf courses and personal grooming services — including hair and nail salons — are nonessential services and are closed. The order can be found online at http://publichealth.lacounty.gov/media/Coronavirus/.
It requires “all indoor malls and shopping centers, all swap meets and flea markets, all indoor and outdoor playgrounds and all non-essential businesses to close.”
Businesses considered essential and permitted to remain open include hardware stores, repair shops, media outlets, banks, laundromats, dry-cleaners and pet supply stores.
Officials said the order was amended to more closely mirror Gov. Gavin Newsom’s latest state order. It covers all 88 cities in Los Angeles County, although officials in Pasadena and Long Beach — which have their own health departments — issued similar mandates of their own.
Prior to Sunday, the two most previously announced deaths also were over the age of 65 and had underlying health conditions, according to the health department. One resided in Del Rey, the other in Miracle Mile, the department reported.
“The risk is spread across everybody who lives here in Los Angeles County,” Ferrer said. “Younger people, while they may have a better outcome (from an infection) … are in fact one of the largest groups of people that we have tested who are positive for COVID-19.”
Health officials have stressed since the outbreak began that while older people, those with underlying health conditions and pregnant women can suffer more severe consequences from contracting coronavirus, the threat of being diagnosed with the illness is spread across all age groups. And while younger patients may suffer lesser symptoms, they can still spread the illness to people who may become more severely ill.
County officials have been working to establish quarantine/isolation areas for people who either have the virus, have been exposed to it or are showing symptoms. One location has already been established at Dockweiler State Beach, where RVs have been parked to provide isolation space.
County Supervisor Hilda Solis announced Friday that the Sheraton Fairplex hotel in Pomona will become a quarantine/isolation facility beginning Monday. She said the county has negotiated a lease for the hotel’s 244 rooms that will continue through May 31, with an option to extend through June.
The rooms will be provided on a first-come, first-served basis, with one person housed per room. Solis said people in the hotel will receive services such as food, medical care and laundry.
The Pomona Fairplex is also opening a child-care center for the children of first-responders, and a drive-through food pantry will begin operating at the facility on April 1. And the shuttered St. Vincent Medical Center in the Westlake district will also be used for patients with the virus.
Ferrer stressed on Thursday that the county would see continued increases in cases over the next four to 12 weeks.