Following a weekend that saw the reopening of more recreational amenities and increased curbside access to retailers, Los Angeles County health officials said Monday, May 18 that hundreds of businesses reopened without adhering to health restrictions, and some beachgoers flouted rules mandating face coverings and social distancing.
The LA County Department of Public Health also announced 18 more deaths due to the coronavirus, while Long Beach — which has its own health department– reported one additional fatality. The new deaths lifted the countywide death toll to 1,840.
The county also reported another 477 cases, and Long Beach added seven, pushing the number of COVID-19 cases during the pandemic to 38,458.
The numbers of new cases and deaths tend to be lower on Mondays, due to the reduced availability of testing and results over the weekend.
Last week, the county relaxed some of its health restrictions, authorizing most retail businesses in the county to reopen with curbside pickup only and restrictions on face coverings and social distancing. More recreational amenities — such as tennis courts and equestrian centers — were also allowed to reopen. The county’s beaches reopened last Wednesday for active use only, attracting large crowds in some locations — notably Malibu — as people took advantage of the first weekend of permissible coastline activity in two months.
Barbara Ferrer, director of the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, tried to strike a positive tone about the large numbers of residents and businesses that adhered to continuing health restrictions over the weekend, but said there were problems.
“Over the weekend, our inspectors visited over 1,600 businesses, and we found that over 1,000 businesses were not yet in compliance with the Safer At Home directives,” she said. “We worked with all of the businesses so they could implement these measures and we want to thank them for following the orders and keeping their employees and their customers as safe as possible.”
She noted that with more amenities open, it was likely that more than 1 million people left their homes over the weekend, and with an estimated countywide infection rate of about 4%, as many as 40,000 of those people could have been infected with COVID-19, regardless of whether they were showing any symptoms.
“So you can see why we do stand here every day and we tell you why it’s so important for us to continue to slow the spread,” Ferrer said. “As more and more people are about, it’s very easy to have a scenario where there’s more infections. And having more infections results in overwhelming the health care system. But I do know that if we do our part, if we are able to keep our distance, if we use our face coverings when we’re around other people, it made a difference before and it will make a difference as we move through the future.”
Both Ferrer and County Supervisor Kathryn Barger, however, lamented the weekend scene in places like Malibu, where hundreds of people flocked to beaches while disregarding face-mask and social-distancing requirements.
“When we talk about Safer At Home, we talk about being responsible,” Barger said. “The only way we’re going to get to a position where we go into the next phase is by people acting responsibly, so when I hear stories like this it frustrates me… Enforcement is going to be the key, but I would hope that people would use common sense when they are out doing that.”
Ferrer thanked people who went to many other county beaches and abided by regulations, but said the health department did receive reports of issues in Malibu. She chided those who flout the health regulations, saying it will only delay the ability to open up more of the county.
“We can continue reopen if we all do our part,” she said. “If people are going to blatantly disregard their obligation to make it safe for others, it’s impossible to continue to move down a path towards recovery. Because this is what will end up overwhelming our health care system.
“And I know because I hear from many of you — you’re not getting sick, you don’t know people who are getting sick, you don’t have elderly people in you life and you have no underlying health conditions. And I respect that. And I respect that this has caused a lot of hardship. But I want to remind folks that you don’t know when you’re in a public space or place who the people are that are around you who may have underlying health conditions and may in fact be the very person that is going to end up in the hospital because you didn’t make that extra effort to put on that face covering and to keep your distance.”
Meanwhile, Ferrer said a survey of local medical facilities has uncovered a total of four cases in the county of a condition in children potentially linked to the coronavirus, known as pediatric inflammatory multi-system syndrome, or PIMS. Another 21 “suspect cases” of the condition have been identified since March 1.
All four of the county’s cases appear to have occurred at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, which confirmed last week a fourth patient. The hospital reported three cases of the condition earlier this month, and all three of those patients — between the ages of 8 months and 2 years old — have since been discharged. The fourth patient was being treated as of last week, listed in critical condition.
CHLA officials have said the four patients all tested positive for COVID-19 antibodies, indicating that were infected with the coronavirus at some point, prompting speculation that PIMS could be a delayed response by the body to the illness.