Los Angeles is hovering just beyond a second economic shutdown as the coronavirus rapidly spreads throughout the city and the rest of the state.
As cases in the city and county of L.A have exploded over the last month, Mayor Eric Garcetti, amid rumors he will be joining the administration of President-elect Joe Biden, on Monday night implored people to start again acting in many ways as they did in the early days of the pandemic, including mask-wearing whenever outside, stopping all unessential travel and generally staying at home.
“Stay at home as much as possible for the next two to three weeks, except for essential services and outdoor exercise,” Garcetti said in a press conference. “Assume everyone you encounter outside your household is infectious.”
“The situation in L.A. is the scariest it’s ever been,” he added. “Right now is the toughest moment we’ve faced. We have no reason to believe a worst case scenario can’t happen in our city and county.”
Although Garcetti’s words have the same ring as L.A.’s “safer at home” lockdown order from March, right now it is more of a strong suggestion than a legal directive from the local government. However, should the public not heed the advice and continue gathering maskless, either at home with people outside of their households or in public, like at restaurants now operating only outdoors, another full shutdown is very much a possibility.
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“It remains an option, the ‘nuclear option’ if you will,” Garcetti said. But if the public doesn’t follow preventative mandates and infection rates continue to climb, the city may have little choice.
“These simple actions will bring L.A. back from the brink,” the mayor said.
This is at least the second time L.A. has been close to another lockdown, the last being over summer when many restrictions on business and gatherings were suddenly lifted, resulting in a wave of new infections.
But the mayor made it clear that it is not his wish to see that option carried out again. The city and county is now operating under the strictest tier of a state-mandated program to manage the spread of the virus, and has been for months, even as other counties had started to loosen up.
“We’ve evolved in that it’s not about using a cleaver and shutting all things down, but we need to stop gathering for a few weeks to get it under control,” he said. “It’s not necessarily the fault of the open sectors of the economy, it’s us.”
Over the last two weeks positive cases of the coronavirus in L.A. County have doubled, Garcetti said, citing public health data. Over the last week, cases have tripled. The county reported just under 2,800 new cases on Monday alone, and more than 6,800 over the weekend, bringing L.A.’s total number of cases to more than 342,000.
In California overall, the state is seeing an average of almost 8,200 positive cases a day and the rate of hospitalizations for the coronavirus has increased 48 percent over the last two weeks. People going into intensive care with the virus have increased 39 percent over the same period. Nationwide, the virus is surging as well as the weather cools and people have started to congregate inside. Nationwide, cases of the virus are up 81 percent over the last two weeks, and deaths from it are up 39 percent.
California Governor Gavin Newsom said Monday in his own press conference that 94 percent of the state’s populace is now being put under the strictest tier of its COVID-operation guidelines, covering 41 of California’s 58 counties. It’s a U-turn from just a few weeks ago when counties like Orange County and San Francisco County were finally progressing to less restrictive mandates.
“Due to the alarming increases we are seeing in COVID-19 cases, we’re pulling the emergency brake,” Newsom said.
Garcetti noted in his conference that research from L.A.’s local health department as well as that from the Centers for Disease Control shows that the current rate of spread is simply related to people gathering without masks.
He cited people gathering with those outside their immediate household to watch sporting events and people sitting at restaurants in groups not wearing masks even while not eating or drinking as major sources of spread. As such, L.A. will be getting stricter with enforcement of its mask mandate, which is also required at the state level, and with any business found operating without the proper precautions of capacity limits and physical distancing in place. Those found flouting the rules will be cited, Garcetti said.
He also insisted that people cancel any plans they have for the upcoming holidays that involve gathering with friends or family outside of a household group. “Don’t travel,” he said plainly, referring to the upcoming holiday season. “Don’t share your air.”
“Please,” Garcetti said, “these next few weeks just be extra, extra vigilant.”
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