LA County officials prepare for holiday COVID-19 cases spike, introduce more safety measures

Photo by izayah ramos on Unsplash

More than 5,000 cases reported on Thanksgiving as more residents ignore government recommendations to stay home for the holidays

DESPITE the persistent urging of lawmakers to stay at home for the holidays, Los Angeles County residents continue to break social distancing and pandemic protocols to celebrate as coronavirus-related cases, hospitalizations and deaths continue to surge throughout the county.

LA County Department of Public Health confirmed 24 new deaths and 4,544 new cases of COVID-19, as of Friday, Nov. 27. The five-day average of new cases is 4,751.

The department introduced a new health order to take effect on Monday, November 30 since the five-day average of cases has consistently been over 4,500.

Public and private gatherings with individuals outside of one’s household are prohibited, except for church services and protests.

Various businesses will have new occupancy limits, such as essential retail at 35% maximum capacity, non-essential retail at 20%, personal care services at 20% and fitness centers operating outdoors at 50% limit.

The day before marked Thanksgiving, and 5,087 new confirmed COVID-19 cases and 37 additional deaths in what was one of the highest single-day totals in the county since the beginning of the pandemic. Hospitalizations of COVID-19 cases also jumped from 1,682 to 1,809 in one day with about a quarter of those patients receiving intensive care.

The dismal spike in numbers comes one day after the controversial ban on in-person dining took effect across the county after the LA County Board of Supervisors voted to close outdoor dining on Wednesday, Nov. 25.

Supervisor Janice Hahn voiced concerns over the financial impact of restaurant closures, saying, “It’s killing me to think that at this point, a few weeks before the holidays, we are considering an order to force restaurants to maybe shut down permanently. We know they will lay off employees if they are restricted to takeout and curbside only. I really don’t think that’s something I want to do. We are careening down another economically tragic road.”

In response to Hahn’s concerns over shutting all restaurants down in the Supervisor meeting on Wednesday, LA County Director Dr. Barbara Ferrer said that she wanted to be “realistic” about the enforcement of the rules.

“There are 31,000 restaurants in LA County and our team, as hard as they’re working, get to about 300 [restaurants] a week,” Ferrer said, adding the numerous viral photos of restaurants and patrons disregarding social distancing guidelines. “There may be many other places that are not in compliance.”

She added that roughly 19% of restaurants that Public Health has investigated were found to be noncompliant with COVID-19-related safety guidelines.

Even if participants wear masks, the risk of viral transmission remains high as the natural urge to remove masks to eat or to drink still poses a danger to the most vulnerable people.

Supervisors Hilda Solis and Sheila Kuehl agreed with the decision to shut down in-person dining while acknowledging the hardship of restaurants to stay afloat during shutdowns.

Kuehl reflected the sentiments of workers’ rights groups that are worried about the financial impact of servers and other restaurant staff, but said that the shutdown would make them “more protected. They’ve been worried about things like approaching tables without masks on.”

Current county estimates concluded that every patient who tests positive for COVID-19 is passing the virus to an average of 1.27 people, the highest transmission rate in LA County since March.

LA County Public Health advises its residents to avoid crowds over the holiday weekend and encourages everybody to conduct their Black Friday shopping online or avoid going to stores during peak hours. As ever, they also urge everybody to stay 6 feet apart from others and to wear a face covering when in public and in close proximity to people outside their homes.

The county is in the process of discussing a broader stay-at-home order following the restaurant closures and the curfew that was implemented last week. The City of Pasadena announced that it would not follow the ban on in-person dining while the City of Long Beach said it would follow the county’s ban. (Both cities have their own public health departments.)

To date, Public Health has identified 387,793 positive cases of COVID-19 across all areas of L.A. County and a total of 7,604 deaths.

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