As COVID-19 cases surge across Southern California, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said Wednesday evening that area agencies could receive more than $1 billion in aid as part of a massive emergency relief package under consideration in Washington.
“I can hardly look at this as a stimulus package; it’s a survival package,” Garcetti told reporters.
Based on a draft of the bill working its way through Congress, Garcetti said he was hopeful that the $2.2-trillion package would include $400 million for Los Angeles International Airport, $700 million for the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority and tens of millions of dollars in community block grants to help the city’s homeless population.
Like other regions of the country experiencing the outbreak of a new coronavirus, public life in Southern California has ground to a halt amid state and local calls to stay at home as officials seek to slow the spread of illness.
Although President Trump has suggested parts of the country could return to life as usual by Easter, Garcetti said Los Angeles would probably not be one of them.
“The worst days are still ahead,” he said. “We’ve taken actions earlier and swifter [than other cities], but no one is immune from this virus.”
Earlier in the day, a Los Angeles County health officer issued an order requiring all individuals who are presumed positive or have tested positive for COVID-19 to self-isolate, and for all close contacts of such individuals to self-quarantine.
L.A. County confirmed three additional deaths linked to the coronavirus Wednesday but is no longer including a Lancaster teenager whose death was reported Tuesday in its count.
“We’ve asked the CDC to complete an investigation on that case,"said Barbara Ferrer, director of the L.A. County Department of Public Health.
Officials Wednesday confirmed 138 new cases of the virus. That brings the county’s total to 812.
So far, more than 6,300 people have been tested in the county for the virus, Ferrer said. Of those, 11% have tested positive.
Ferrer said 160 people who tested positive have been hospitalized at some point. There are currently 44 hospitalized individuals, including four who are in their 30s.
The total death count in the county, excluding the Lancaster teen, is 13.
Ferrer said that 1% of those who have tested positive in the county have died. The United States’ mortality rate for COVID-19 is 1.5%, a rate higher than that of the flu.
Officials are also working to find additional hospital beds for non-COVID-19 patients, including the use of the Navy ship Mercy, which will provide more than 1,000 spaces. Pentagon Press Secretary Alyssa Farah said the Mercy will arrive in Los Angeles on Friday — earlier than expected.
With coronavirus-related deaths in California now over 60, state officials are warning that the worst is still to come as the virus continues to spread.
San Mateo County reported three more deaths Wednesday, bringing the total there to five.
Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti warned Tuesday that residents should be prepared for more loss of life as the pandemic expands.
Garcetti said L.A. could be six to 12 days from seeing similar numbers to the outbreak in New York City, where the death toll has dramatically increased in recent days.
“It’s coming,” Garcetti said. “The peak is not here yet. The peak will be bad. People will lose their lives.”
The mayor also rebuffed President Trump’s earlier comments that he wanted to quickly ease restrictions and said Angelenos should be “prepared for a couple months like this.”
“I know that everybody is hopeful, and some are putting out that hope of us being back in churches by Easter or synagogues by Passover or restarting the economy in a couple weeks,” Garcetti said. “I think we owe it to everybody to be straightforward and honest. We will not be back to … that level of normal in that short period of time.”
Ferrer reiterated that message Wednesday, pointing to the rapid growth in cases in New York and in Italy.
“We would be foolish to not prepare for a similar scenario in L.A. County,” she said. “We talk about numbers, but these aren’t numbers — these are people’s lives.”
Even now, police and fire agencies are scrambling to adapt to the crisis.
On Wednesday, Los Angeles Police Department officials said they’ve set up two facilities, one in an auditorium downtown and another at the police academy, where officers can sleep between shifts so they don’t have to travel home.
The department also sought to dispel rumors on social media that its officers were stopping individuals for violating the stay-at-home order. “No, the LAPD is not stopping or ticketing people for exercising outdoors,” the department tweeted. “Spreading false rumors during this time does no good.”
Also, officers will not launch any DUI checkpoints or tow vehicles for parking violations — among other infractions — during the outbreak, department officials said.
City and county firefighters are also continuing their work as usual, with some exceptions. Two Los Angeles city firefighters who tested positive for COVID-19 are resting at home. The pair were among 79 department employees tested for the coronavirus since Friday.
Though no Los Angeles County firefighters have tested positive for the virus that causes COVID-19, it’s a dramatically different story on the southern edge of the county in Long Beach, where city officials announced Wednesday that eight firefighters from the same station have tested positive.
Officials believe the firefighters, who worked at Station 11 in North Long Beach, were exposed to the virus while on the job performing their regular duties.
“As you can imagine, this has been devastating news,” said Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia. Additional firefighters are being tested, he added, “so that number could go up.”
The firefighters are in stable condition, resting while in self-isolation at home and in good spirits, Fire Chief Xavier Espino said.
“The contraction of COVID-19 among multiple firefighters highlights the ease with which this virus can spread,” Long Beach City Health Officer Dr. Anissa Davis said. “We know that this virus is in our community. What’s key now is that we take timely and active action to interrupt new infections.”
Four of the firefighters live in Long Beach and are included in the city’s count of 41 confirmed coronavirus cases. Four others live elsewhere and are included in the counts in their respective communities.
Garcia urged residents to adhere to the city’s orders for residents to stay at home except for essential tasks such as going to the grocery store, and to keep at least six feet away from other people when outside the home. He also said residents should behave as if anyone around them could have the virus.
The number of cases confirmed in the city has risen exponentially in recent days and will probably continue to grow rapidly, Garcia said.
A day earlier, Tuesday, the city updated its “Safer at Home” order to prohibit gatherings of any size and closed parking lots at parks, beaches and the Belmont Veterans Memorial Pier.
“We had to do that because too many individuals are still outside congregating in groups and being quite frankly not just unhealthy, quite frankly also irresponsible,” Garcia said.
“This is a serious public health emergency and people need to take it seriously,” Garcia said. “The next two, three, four weeks are the critical weeks in making sure that we’re prepared for the hospital and medical emergency that could be in front of us.”
But as public officials Wednesday urged people to stay at home, reports of the virus’ spread among Southern California continued to trickle in.
Shortly after L.A. County initiated its quarantine order, Rep. Katie Porter (D-Irvine) announced she was awaiting test results after developing a fever over the weekend.
“I will remain in self-quarantine until I have the test results back and until directed by my doctor that it is safe for me to leave my home,” she said.
Not long after Porter’s announcement, 2018 Republican gubernatorial nominee John Cox announced that he has tested positive for COVID-19.
“My symptoms were relatively mild and I am slowly feeling much better,” he said in a statement. “I decided to go public with this diagnosis to muster support for defeating this without destroying our way of life.”
Coronavirus infection cases in the state have surpassed 2,800. But that number is expected to dramatically rise as more testing occurs. New York state has recorded more than 280 deaths and 30,000 confirmed cases.
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California officials think they also will see major increases in the coming days and weeks.
San Francisco officials said this week that a surge in coronavirus infections is expected to come within a week or two.
“The worst is yet to come,” San Francisco Health Director Dr. Grant Colfax said at a news conference Monday. “Every community where the virus has taken hold has seen a surge in the number of coronavirus patients who need to be hospitalized. We expect that to happen in San Francisco soon, in a week or two, or perhaps even less.”
On Tuesday, San Francisco reported its first death linked to the coronavirus. The man who died was in his 40s and had multiple underlying health conditions. The city has confirmed at least 178 cases of COVID-19, roughly three weeks after reporting its first.
On Wednesday, officials described how the virus has spread among city workers.
Two San Francisco Police Department employees have tested positive for COVID-19, Police Chief William Scott said at a news briefing.
The department has quarantined 27 employees, including two dozen sworn officers at the Thomas J. Cahill Hall of Justice, where the employees who tested positive worked, Scott said. A day earlier, the department had announced that a sergeant assigned to the Special Victims Unit at the Hall of Justice had tested positive for the virus and that the sergeant’s work partner was also feeling unwell.
Both were self-quarantined at their homes.
Scott said the department has broken up investigative units to rotate officers between telecommuting, working in the field and in the office only as needed.
San Francisco’s case total continues to rise each day, Mayor London Breed said at Wednesday’s briefing.
Among those is an employee in the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, which oversees the city’s transit, streets and taxi services.
The news followed confirmation from the L.A. County Metropolitan Transportation Authority that three employees connected to the agency had also been infected with the coronavirus.
San Francisco city leaders said Wednesday that it was “plausible” San Francisco could face the health crisis now occurring in New York City and needed 1,500 more ventilators and 5,000 more hospital beds.
COVID-19 has Thom Mayne, Michael Maltzan, Barbara Bestor, Rachel Allen and more Los Angeles architects rethinking design, from balconies to doorknobs.
The new regulations allow people in the same household to sit together on the sand. Activities like football and volleyball are still banned, and parking lots and piers remain closed.
The Ventura County directive, put in place to stem the coronavirus’ spread, is set to expire Sunday. Health officials plan to extend it, but with further relaxations.
“It is not even a question as to whether we will need more,” Breed said.
She called on the state and federal government for more assistance and repeatedly asked the public to remain at home and engage in social distancing.
If people fail to do that, she said, they or their sick relatives may have to be turned away from hospitals because of shortages.
“Sadly, things are going to get worse,” Breed said.
The news conference appeared aimed at disputing comments by Trump and others who contend the stay-at-home orders are excessive.
“I know there are people out there who will lead you to believe our efforts are too aggressive, but I cannot stress enough just how vital they are,” said Colfax, the health director.
He said the city expects the initial surge to start within two weeks, but he could not estimate how long it would last.
“It is plausible that we could have a scenario similar to what is playing out in New York this very day,” he said. “If that happens, our surge capacity will be far exceeded.”
He said epidemiologists and infectious-disease experts have done modeling, and “a plausible” model suggests San Francisco could experience what New York City is now suffering.
If that happens, “we will require federal and state assistance,” he said. “We cannot manage that alone.”
The city has been ramping up for the crisis, securing new hospital beds, postponing elective surgeries and acquiring hotel rooms where infected people can isolate.
Just south of San Francisco in Daly City, officials with Seton Medical Center said they will begin accepting up to 220 coronavirus patients after reaching a lease agreement with the state. The agreement lasts for three months during which time Verity Health System will operate the center on behalf of California, according to a statement from the California Health and Human Services Agency.
The state has a similar agreement with Verity for St. Vincent Medical Center in Los Angeles, where workers are preparing the facility to accept up to 366 infected patients. A hospital in Long Beach opened for coronavirus patients last weekend and has capacity for more than 150 patients.
As confirmed cases continue to grow throughout the state, Gov. Gavin Newsom said Trump’s remarks about easing restrictions did not reflect reality in California.
“April for California would be sooner than any of the experts that I talked to believe is possible,” Newsom said.
Newsom now expects California will need 50,000 hospital beds to deal with COVID-19 patients, more than double what his administration forecast last week. He said the state’s 416 hospitals will execute “surge plans” to create 30,000 new beds.
Newsom also ordered a halt to the intake and transfer of inmates at the state’s 35 prisons and four youth correctional facilities. He said British billionaire Richard Branson will donate medical gear to help healthcare workers, joining efforts by Tesla and Apple executives.
Officials on Tuesday said coronavirus may have claimed the life of a Lancaster teenager, possibly the nation’s first death of a person under 18 related to the virus.
Ferrer called it “a devastating reminder that COVID-19 affects people of all ages.” But in a statement late Tuesday, public health officials noted that although “early tests indicated a positive result for COVID-19, the case is complex and there may be an alternate explanation” besides the coronavirus for the death.
As officials try to determine the exact cause of death for the youth, it’s possible that the coronavirus and bacterial infection are correlated, one expert said. Ferrer said Wednesday the county has asked the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to investigate the case.