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Newsletter: Unprecedented closures in Los Angeles

A sign above the 5 Freeway near Griffith Park.
(Laura Nelson / Los Angeles Times)

Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Monday, March 16, and I’m writing from Los Angeles.

As the coronavirus toll continues to mount, the line separating the unfathomable from the actual has started to feel as if it’s drawn in disappearing ink.

Last Sunday, tens of thousands of sweat-drenched people ran through the streets from downtown to Santa Monica for the 35th Los Angeles Marathon. This Sunday, the CDC recommended that events of 50 people or more not be held for eight weeks.

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Gov. Gavin Newsom also issued new directives, asking Californians over the age of 65 and those with underlying health conditions to isolate themselves from others and saying that neighborhood bars and pubs should close their doors.

[Read the story: “To help fight coronavirus, California seniors should isolate and bars should close, Gov. Gavin Newsom says” in the Los Angeles Times]

[See also: “California calls on millions of senior citizens to stay home because of coronavirus. What you need to know” in the Los Angeles Times]

Roughly 85% of the state’s students won’t be heading to school this morning, as 24 of the state’s 25 largest school systems, including the Los Angeles Unified School District, have shut down. Newsom reaffirmed Sunday that school districts can decide on their own whether or not to close in response to the coronavirus outbreak in their communities. In Los Angeles, those who do leave the house are met with eerily empty freeways. The same overhead digital signs that might otherwise have traffic updates now urge drivers to wash their hands and avoid gatherings.

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The line disappears. We draw a new line. Before we can even begin to get our bearings, it moves again.

On Sunday night, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti went much further than Newsom, issuing an executive order that will effectively shut down much of the state’s largest city. Bars, nightclubs, movie theaters, gyms and fitness centers in the city must close, and restaurants must halt dine-in service, limiting their business to takeout. Grocery stores will remain open. The order went into effect Sunday at midnight and extends until March 31.

[Read the story: “L.A. limits restaurants to takeout and delivery, closes entertainment venues over coronavirus” in the Los Angeles Times]

As the nation furiously works to “flatten the curve” and slow the spread of infections so that our healthcare system isn’t overwhelmed with patients, public officials are forced to reckon with an impossible calculus. Amid enormous broader economic turmoil, the outlook is now even bleaker for businesses and workers.

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“Our decisions will determine the fate of our loved ones, the length of this crisis,” Garcetti said. “We need to take these steps to protect our city right now.” The mayor also announced a moratorium on evictions for renters, telling Angelenos that they won’t lose their housing during the crisis “because you can’t make the rent,” and said he has asked the city attorney to look into whether the city can stop commercial evictions as well.

Across the nation, Govs. Mike DeWine of Ohio, J.B. Pritzker of Illinois and Charlie Baker of Massachusetts also issued orders Sunday requiring all bars and restaurants across their states to close.

But as my Sacramento-based colleagues explained in their story, in California the governor “again stopped short of using the full force of his authority to mandate response measures to protect Californians from the virus that causes COVID-19, a global pandemic that has resulted in six deaths and 335 confirmed cases in the state.” Newsom’s directives — which were limited to bars and wineries, not restaurants — were recommendations and not orders. The governor defended his lack of action to close restaurants, saying he’s removing the most vulnerable people from those environments and allowing eateries to continue to provide meals.

Instead, California restaurants in cities without their own localized orders will remain open. Newsom advised customers to practice “deep social distancing” when dining out — in effect, a recommendation to reduce occupancy by half.

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The governor also announced additional testing options for two Bay Area counties hit hard by the virus and called for a tighter limit on visitors to hospitals and assisted living facilities to only those patients in end-of-life situations.

And now, here’s what’s happening across California:

L.A. STORIES

Another group of homeless moms and families are taking over a house — this time in L.A. On Saturday morning, the protesters and their families moved into a two-bedroom bungalow in El Sereno. They say they plan to remain indefinitely and potentially take over more houses. Los Angeles Times

Sisters Meztli Escudero, 8, left, and Victoria Escudero, 10, stand in the window of a vacant house they and their families occupied
Sisters Meztli Escudero, 8, left, and Victoria Escudero, 10, stand in the window of a vacant house they and their families occupied on Saturday morning. The homeless and housing-insecure protesters said they were inspired by a similar protest in Oakland this year and by fear of the coronavirus outbreak.
(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

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The Los Angeles Police Department has confirmed its first coronavirus case, a supervisor in the Pacific Division. Los Angeles Times

Twenty-two L.A.-centric shows to binge while social distancing, from “BoJack Horseman” to “Gentefied” and beyond. We Like L.A.

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POLITICS AND GOVERNMENT

You might have missed it with everything else going on, but there was another Democratic presidential primary debate last night. Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders — the last two major Democratic presidential candidates standing — parsed their differences in an often testy two-hour debate. Here are six takeaways. Los Angeles Times

On Sunday, Gov. Newsom announced that homeless people would be prioritized as a vulnerable population. Though he offered few details, he said there would be a massive attempt to move people off the streets and into indoor settings, including hotels and motels purchased in recent days and 450 state-owned trailers that will be deployed throughout California. Los Angeles Times

CRIME AND COURTS

The Robert Durst murder trial has been postponed to April 6 amid concerns across the court system about the coronavirus. Los Angeles Times

HEALTH AND THE ENVIRONMENT

A clinical trial evaluating a vaccine designed to protect against the new coronavirus will begin Monday, according to a government official. Los Angeles Times

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Your hoarding could cost me my life — a doctor’s view from the coronavirus front lines. Los Angeles Times

CALIFORNIA CULTURE

Is it safe to hike in L.A.? Medical experts give a thumbs-up to getting out there as long as COVID-19 precautions are followed. Los Angeles Times

In these incredibly difficult times, I want to help share stories about “the helpers.” Have you witnessed acts of kindness in your California community, or worked to ease the burden for others? Please tell me about it.

CALIFORNIA ALMANAC

Los Angeles: rain, 57. San Diego: partly sunny, 62. San Francisco: partly sunny, 53. San Jose: rain, 53. Fresno: rain, 51. Sacramento: rain, 51. More weather is here.

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AND FINALLY

This week’s birthdays for those who made a mark in California:

L.A. City Councilman Mike Bonin (March 19, 1967), Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw (March 19, 1988), former San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown (March 20, 1934) and Secretary of State Alex Padilla (March 22, 1973).

If you have a memory or story about the Golden State, share it with us. (Please keep your story to 100 words.)

Please let us know what we can do to make this newsletter more useful to you. Send comments, complaints, ideas and unrelated book recommendations to Julia Wick. Follow her on Twitter @Sherlyholmes.


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