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L.A. County reports 54 coronavirus cases; state total climbs to 288

A store with empty shelves
The fear of the coronavirus has Southern California residents stocking up. Above, empty shelves at a Target in Manhattan Beach.
(Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times)

California saw a rise Saturday in coronavirus cases, with Los Angeles and several other counties confirming more patients, bringing the statewide total to at least 288, officials said.

Los Angeles County reported 13 more cases and Long Beach one, bringing the county’s total to 54.

Two of the people among the most recent cases reported are hospitalized, the L.A. County Department of Public Health said in a news release. Two cases are suspected to be related to travel, and four had close contact with another confirmed case, officials said. Two of the cases have an unidentified source of exposure, meaning they could be more evidence of community spread, officials said.

In Long Beach, a woman in her 60s who was diagnosed with the virus was hospitalized in stable condition, the city said in a statement. She did not have contact with another known COVID-19 case and did not travel to an area where the virus is widespread, meaning her diagnosis may be the first instance of community spread in Long Beach, officials said.

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“This case highlights the need for continued vigilance and preparation, especially for those at higher risk of severe illness and those with underlying health conditions,” said Dr. Anissa Davis, the city health officer, in a statement.

The outbreak is interrupting the everyday life of residents in Southern California and beyond.

Ski resorts close

On Saturday, Mammoth Mountain Ski Area in the eastern Sierra and 14 other resorts in North America announced they will close Sunday until further notice, according to the Denver-based operator of the resorts, Alterra Mountain Co.

The company issued a brief statement attributing the closures to the outbreak and “the best interests of our guests, employees and local communities.”

Alterra is also closing June Mountain in the eastern Sierra, Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows near Lake Tahoe, and Big Bear Mountain Resort in the San Bernardino Mountains, among other resorts in Vermont, West Virginia, Utah and Washington state.

Vail Resorts, one of the world’s largest ski resort operators, also announced it would close its North American slopes, starting Sunday until March 22, to give management “time to reassess our approach for the rest of the season,” the company said in an online statement.

The Vail closures will include Northstar, Kirkwood and Heavenly ski resorts in the Lake Tahoe area, as well as resorts in Utah, Colorado and British Columbia, Canada.

The ski resorts are among the growing list of businesses, including casinos and theme parks, that are temporarily closing as officials advise against large gatherings.

But it appeared in some places around the country that avoiding a large crowd was virtually impossible.

O’Hare Airport

In a series of tweets Saturday evening, Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker chastised the federal government’s response at O’Hare Airport in Chicago, where posts on social media showed thousands of international passengers arriving from overseas shoulder to shoulder, stuck in hours-long lines to collect their baggage and be screened for entry.

“The federal government needs to get its s@#t together. NOW,” the governor tweeted.

But where possible, public officials are trying to ensure large groups are avoided.

Coastal Commission chairman tests positive

The California Coastal Commission is considering holding its April meeting online. On Saturday, its chairman, Steve Padilla, who also serves on the Chula Vista City Council, announced he had tested positive for the coronavirus and was being isolated at home.

He said he is healthy, strong and safe, but noted his symptoms, fever, body aches, headaches and chills, “came on very rapidly.”

“My main concern now is for the well-being of others. My friends and family have been informed and are taking the necessary steps — but it’s my duty to be transparent for the entire community,” he said in a video to his constituents.

L.A. parks, animal control, libraries and courts

Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Department of Recreation and Parks announced that it would close all recreation and senior centers and cancel all activities there through at least April 4. All events that involve 50 people or more scheduled at Recreation and Parks locations are canceled, and new reservations for facilities or permits are suspended, the department said.

The Los Angeles County Animal Care and Control department said its animal control officers would continue to respond to public safety and animal welfare calls, such as dangerous dogs, dead animal reports and animal cruelty investigations, but that the department is deferring less urgent calls until further notice.

Pet owners who want to surrender their pets are asked to delay doing so, those who have found lost pets are asked to foster them temporarily instead of bringing them in, and those who seek to surrender healthy stray cats are asked to release them where they were trapped and bring them in after there is no longer a public health recommendation for social distancing, the department said.

Animal care centers are suspending the sale of pet licenses, and pet owners will be given a 30-day grace period for late license submissions.

And all of the county’s 86 library locations will be closed from Saturday through the end of the month.

“After careful consideration, and discussions with local health authorities, we have decided to close our libraries in an abundance of caution and to help prevent and limit the spread of COVID-19.” said Library Director Skye Patrick in a statement Saturday. “We understand the impact this can potentially cause on customers and will continue to monitor the situation closely to provide updates.”

Several library lobbies will remain open, and the public can still call the system with reference inquiries, officials said. More information can be found at the library system’s main website.

Courts across California, including in Los Angeles, are beginning to grind to a halt as well. Santa Clara County, where the coronavirus outbreak has hit particularly hard, announced delays Friday in many traffic, family, civil and probate trials, as well as some criminal trials.

The scene in Hollywood

Fears over the virus were evident at L.A. tourist attractions on Saturday. Few are as popular with visitors from throughout the world as the TCL Chinese Theatre forecourt, where nearly 200 celebrities have immortalized their handprints in concrete.

Many visitors get a thrill from pressing their own hands into the exact places their screen idols cast theirs. The coronavirus pandemic has dampened enthusiasm for that kind of interactive experience.

Looking down at the slab imprinted with the prints of Marilyn Monroe, Giulia Ragusa, 27, of San Francisco, hesitated, then got down on her knees, smiled and plunged her hands into the hallowed depressions.

“I’m not afraid! I’m young and strong!” she said, as her friend Carolina Benetti, 19, snapped photos.

Mission accomplished, Ragusa sprang to her feet and said, “Hey, Carolina, get the hand sanitizer out of my backpack, please.”

On any other Saturday, hundreds of visitors would crowd the theater courtyard, pivoting on their heels as they snapped selfies or aimed video cameras in all directions. Tour buses would be disgorging throngs of visitors.

It’s not just supermarkets and big box retailers that are struggling to keep toilet paper and groceries on the shelves. Liquor stores and other neighborhood businesses are too.

Costumed movie figures would be parading up and down the boulevard in search of tips in exchange for photos.

But Hollywood souvenir salesman Nick Brooks, 34, was having to face up to grim views he did not think were possible.

Standing forlornly on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, holding an umbrella in one hand and a large sign that read “Everything’s $5” in the other, he said, “I’ve worked this corner seven years and I’ve never seen it this slow. Business is down nearly 100%.”

“On a normal Saturday, without rain or coronavirus, I shout the sales pitch ‘Everything’s $5!’” 200 times a day in perfect Chinese,” he said, shaking his head. “Now, I say it four times a week because the place is almost empty.

“Usually, this sidewalk is a river of people, 30 persons deep,” he added. “But right now, for the first time, I’ve got a clear view all the way down to Highland Avenue, a quarter-mile away.”

Across California

Elsewhere, San Francisco reported 28 cases Saturday, up from 23 the day before; in San Mateo County, the number increased from 20 to 26. Contra Costa County reported four new cases, bringing its total to 29, and in Sacramento County, the number of cases rose from 17 to 29. Santa Clara County announced 17 additional cases, bringing the total there to 91.

Marin County announced two new cases Saturday, bringing its total to five. Neither had exposure to another known case, and both are believed to be the result of community spread, officials said.

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“The first cases of community transmission of COVID-19 in Marin means we’re in a new stage of working to mitigate spread,” said Dr. Matt Willis, the county public health officer, in a statement. “We’ve been anticipating this.

With supermarkets overrun, workplaces clearing out and coronavirus spreading deeper into communities, California officials desperately attempted to slow the virus with new restrictions and a unified message: social distancing.

“COVID-19 LESS IS MORE,” electronic signs over the 405 and 105 freeways in Los Angeles read Saturday morning. “AVOID GATHERINGS.” Similar messages were displayed on all 700 of the state’s digital highway signs, Caltrans said.

Of California’s 288 confirmed cases, 70 are believed to be from community transmission and the cause of 66 of them are under investigation, the state health department said. The rest are a mix of confirmed person-to-person transmissions, related to travel or patients returning to the country after contracting the disease elsewhere.

Calling the outbreak “one of the most historic public health challenges of our time,” Santa Clara County health officer Dr. Sara Cody issued an aggressive new ban, restricting public gatherings of 35 or more unless organizers warn attendees that it poses a heightened risk of infection, and banning all public and private gatherings of 100 or more.

On Saturday, Contra Costa County announced similar restrictions, with the county’s health officer issuing an order prohibiting gatherings of 100 people or more in a single room or enclosed space. Those who violate the order, which is in effect from midnight Sunday through March 31, could be charged with a misdemeanor and face a fine or imprisonment in county jail, officials said. Other counties canceled events and introduced new restrictions.

In Riverside County, officials announced that a former patient at the Coachella Valley nursing home has the coronavirus, prompting them to test workers and patients at the facility.

The county public health department said the patient spent time at Rancho Mirage Health and Rehabilitation Center before being transferred to a hospital.

The move follows a similar closure of the Los Angeles Public Library system in efforts to stem the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Riverside County declared a state of emergency last week. As of Saturday, it had 14 confirmed cases, four of which are believed to be related to travel, and 10 to have been acquired locally.

Schools and universities react

Amid the steady increase in cases in Santa Clara County, Stanford University announced a wave of changes to campus operations after an undergraduate student there tested positive for the virus.

The student is self-isolating, and university teams are working to reach out to the person’s close contacts, university President Marc Tessier-Lavigne announced in a letter to students Friday night.

As a result, during spring break and the spring quarter, the school “will only be able to provide on-campus undergraduate housing and dining for a very limited number of students — those who have no other option than to be here,” the letter said. They will prioritize international and homeless students, and those who “have known severe health or safety risks.”

A graduate student at Stanford’s rival, UC Berkeley, has also contracted COVID-19, school officials announced. The individual does not live on campus or in the city of Berkeley and has self-isolated at home, the university said.

Major school districts throughout California, including Los Angeles Unified, announced shutdowns Friday, joining at least 12 states that have ordered complete closures amid escalating attempts to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

The closure initially is scheduled to last two weeks, but a firm reopen date will depend on the status of the outbreak, which President Trump on Friday declared a national emergency

President Trump and travel restrictions

Speaking at a White House news conference on Saturday, Trump said he was considering domestic travel restrictions “specifically from certain areas,” although he didn’t mention any particular spots.

“If you don’t have to travel, I wouldn’t do it,” he said. “We want this thing to end.”

In addition, his administration is extending the ban on travel from Europe to the United Kingdom and Ireland. The restriction goes into effect on Monday at midnight, but U.S. citizens will be allowed to return home.

Trump also said that he took a test for the coronavirus the night before after days of mixed messages over whether he would do so.

“I took the test last night,” he said. “I decided I should based on the press conference last night.”

The president said Friday night that he would “most likely” get tested after interacting with Brazilian officials who tested positive for the virus. But hours later, his physician released a memo suggesting that he would not take the test because he’s at “LOW risk.”

Trump told reporters Saturday that he had his temperature checked before entering the White House briefing room. “Totally normal,” he said as he left the podium. The White House announced later in the day that the president tested negative.

More cases nationwide

More cases were announced nationally, including 100 new ones in New York on Saturday.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said Saturday that there are 2,226 coronavirus cases in the United States, including repatriations, and 50 deaths. He said there are 532 new cases and nine new deaths.

“We have not reached our peak,” Fauci said. “We will see more cases, and we will see more suffering and death.”

However, the country still has an opportunity to influence how fast and far the virus spreads, he said.


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