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Coronavirus cases keep surging as California officials move to protect workers and renters

Gov. Gavin Newsom, left, and Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, stand in front of the hospital ship USNS Mercy that arrived into the Port of Los Angeles on Friday. Both Newsom and Garcetti have announced a delay on evictions for tenants who cannot pay their rent because of the pandemic outbreak.
(Carolyn Cole/Los Angeles Times)

As the number of deaths and confirmed cases of coronavirus surged across California, Gov. Gavin Newsom on Friday announced a delay on evictions for tenants who cannot pay their rent because of the outbreak.

Under Newsom’s order, renters cannot be forced out of their homes over the next two months if they fall behind on rent because they have been laid off, seen their pay cut, or were forced to miss work to care for a loved one or recover from illness.

The order could grant temporary relief for tens of thousands of workers struggling to pay April rent amid layoffs, pay cuts and other economic harm sparked by the COVID-19 pandemic. Renters could still be evicted later in the year for failing to repay April or May rent payments.

To qualify under the governor’s executive order, tenants must notify their landlords in writing about the missed payment within seven days of the rent deadline. Renters who qualify for the eviction postponement would still be required to pay back the money owed, Newsom said.

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The push to protect renters comes as the number of coronavirus deaths continued to rise across California, with 102 deaths and 4,905 cases reported across the state.

In Los Angeles County, health officials reported five more fatalities due to COVID-19, bringing the county’s death toll to 26, the highest of any county in the state. All five of the victims reported Friday were older than 60, and four were men, officials said.

Almost 11,000 people had been tested in Los Angeles County as of Friday. The number of confirmed cases rose to 1,482, a 20% increase from the previous day.

Officials continue to warn that Los Angeles could soon resemble New York, the center of the nation’s coronavirus epidemic. On Friday, the number of cases there rose to nearly 45,000, more than nine times as many as in California.

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If each person who has tested positive for the virus infected two others, more than a million Los Angeles County residents would be infected within a few weeks, said Barbara Ferrer, director of the county Department of Public Health. Officials have ordered all those who have tested positive for COVID-19 to self-isolate, along with those in close contact with them.

L.A. County’s mortality rate from the virus is about 1.8%, higher than New York City and the United States overall, Ferrer said. But the region has tested far fewer people than New York, meaning health officials do not have as firm a grasp on the total number of infections.

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti announced Friday that UPS will pay for, deliver and pick up COVID-19 kits to residents who meet the criteria for testing. The program, which could start as early as next week, could allow Los Angeles to test thousands more people every day, he said.

Newsom said this week that California will need 50,000 hospital beds for coronavirus patients, a significant increase from the 20,000 beds his administration had forecast last week. The state’s 416 hospitals are doubling so-called surge plans to 40% of their capacity, which includes providing 30,000 new beds across the system, Newsom said.

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Garcetti said only 1,500 beds in Los Angeles and about 900 ventilators in the county are available now. The city is sorting through credentials for the more than 2,700 medical workers who have volunteered to help, he said.

The Navy hospital ship Mercy arrived at the Port of Los Angeles on Friday. The 1,000-bed vessel will become Los Angeles’ largest hospital and will house patients who do not have COVID-19, in an effort to free up space in hospitals for an expected surge of coronavirus patients.

Some patients who are already hospitalized in Los Angeles County will be transferred to the ship for ongoing treatment, port officials said.

In an effort to enforce social-distancing guidelines to slow the spread of the virus, L.A. County officials Friday announced the temporary closure of beaches, piers, beach bike paths, beach access points, public trails and trailheads through April 19. The city of Los Angeles followed suit later in the day, announcing the closure of park amenities and trails.

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The Los Angeles City Council agreed Friday to expand its temporary ban on evictions related to the coronavirus, including waiving late fees and expanding the repayment period for back-rent to one year. But the members narrowly rejected a proposal that would have banned all evictions in the city.

The council also mandated 10 more days of sick leave during the pandemic for full-time workers at businesses with at least 500 employees nationwide, on top of the six days required under city law.

Workers would qualify for additional leave if they had a medical condition such as asthma or diabetes that places them at heightened risk of the coronavirus or were forced to stay home to self-quarantine or care for an ill relative.

The original proposal would have required most employers in Los Angeles to provide 10 additional days of paid leave. Lawmakers scaled back the measure after business owners said they could not afford the measure amid the economic fallout of the pandemic.

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Public health officials are also monitoring a homeless person who might have COVID-19 and is now in isolation. Health officials are working to identify who the individual has been in contact with, Garcetti said.

The confirmed number of coronavirus cases in Orange County climbed by 25% Friday, from 256 cases on Thursday to 321 on Friday. Health officials also reported two more deaths, bringing the total to three.

Friday also marked the first time the county shared city-level specifics regarding its cases — information some residents have been demanding for weeks. Officials said the cities with the most cases were Irvine with 33, Newport Beach with 32 and Anaheim with 28.

The number of cases in Riverside County rose Friday to 185, health officials said. The county has reported eight deaths.

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The death toll in San Diego County rose to six Friday, with three new fatalities reported: a man in his mid-50s, a man in his early 80s and a 25-year-old pharmacy technician with no underlying health conditions.

The nine-county Bay Area has seen 37 deaths, with 20 of them in Santa Clara County, according to health officials. The region has 1,624 confirmed cases, a 14% increase from Thursday.

Times staff writers Luke Money, Rong-Gong Lin II, Richard Winton, Emily Alpert Reyes and David Zahniser contributed to this report.


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