Los Angeles County officials reported 31 new coronavirus deaths on Sunday, its largest single-day total so far.
Twenty-five of those fatalities were people over the age of 65 and six people were in the 41-65 age bracket, health officials said.
In all, 296 L.A. County residents have died of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. The number of confirmed infections in the county rose to 9,192 — an increase of 323 since Saturday, the lowest number of daily new cases since March 27.
The previous one-day fatality record in L.A. County was 29 deaths on Wednesday.
Across California, meanwhile, communities ushered in Easter with new restrictions to keep people indoors and away from gatherings to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
To deter crowds from gathering for traditional outdoor observances, all L.A. County botanical gardens, lakes and parks were closed to the public on Easter Sunday. Officials warned that authorities would be out in force to make sure people didn’t congregate in these places.
“Your heart breaks … This is such a great tradition for the many families we have,” L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti said last week in announcing the order. “But we can’t afford to have one cluster of even just a few people together spread this disease to more people and kill them.”
The popular walking path around the Silver Lake Reservoir remained open but was converted to a one-way-only trail Saturday. Pedestrians were required to walk counterclockwise, stay six feet apart and wear masks.
“If we can all walk in the same direction, practice social distancing and wear face masks, everyone will remain healthy and have these options to exercise during the pandemic,” Councilman Mitch O’Farrell said in a video posted to social media Saturday.
People are also required to wear face coverings when visiting grocery stores and other essential businesses in the city of Los Angeles, as well as many other cities in L.A. County. Workers at some of those businesses reported Sunday that people appeared to be heeding the new mandate.
Aki Hirata, floor manager at Nijiya Market in Torrance, said there was confusion among customers on Friday when the law took effect. But so far, he said, “customers have been pretty good. They’re wearing [masks].” And that makes him, an essential service employee, feel a lot safer.
Shanna Yi, a server at Yuk Dae Jang in Gardena, said most patrons of the Korean restaurant have been complying. She wasn’t too concerned about the few customers who aren’t obeying, she said, because she usually tells them to wait for their food outside. And because she’s mandated to wear a mask, too, “I don’t feel like they’ll harm me.”
The rules came as more people died from COVID-19, and officials said social distancing was essential to fighting it.
Around midday Saturday, Los Angeles County public health officials reported an additional 25 deaths related to the virus and 456 new cases. Long Beach, which has its own public health department, also reported a death.
Long Beach on Sunday reported two additional deaths — a woman in her 70s and a woman older than 80 — bringing its total to 12 deaths and 337 cases.
“As people of different faiths come together this weekend, my thoughts and prayers are with all those who are experiencing loss, illness and distress associated with the COVID-19 pandemic,” Barbara Ferrer, director of the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, said in a statement.
Orange County on Sunday reported an additional death and 57 more cases, for a total of 19 deaths and 1,277 cases.
Across California, there have been more than 630 deaths.
San Bernardino County has urged churches to hold only virtual Easter services.
“People may not leave their homes for driving parades or drive-up services or to pick up nonessential items such as prepackaged Easter eggs or bags filled with candy and toys at a drive-through location,” the county said in a statement last week.
After announcing the initial ban, however, the county pulled back and said drive-in religious services could proceed, but congregants must be kept apart.
In Riverside County, officials reminded families to refrain from traveling during the Easter holiday, especially to relatively isolated resort areas like Idyllwild.
County Supervisor Chuck Washington said his office had multiple inquiries from concerned residents of the town of 2,500, which he noted did not have enough resources or medical services for both residents and travelers.
“I understand that families who have been isolated for weeks want to entertain their kids, but we are in the middle of a public health crisis,” Washington said in a statement. “We can’t risk families exposing themselves and the residents of Idyllwild to COVID-19 just for a snow trip.”
The message from officials: Enjoy Easter, but do it at home.
That’s not to say that worshipers shouldn’t feel free to practice their faith, Gov. Gavin Newsom said, but “as you pray, move your feet at least six feet apart from someone else.”
“Practice your faith,” he said, “but do so in a way that allows you to keep yourself healthy, keep others healthy and does justice to the teaching of Christ, God and others.”
Hermosa Beach parks are closed, but the city is holding a virtual Easter egg hunt on its Facebook page, where the city posted photos of colored eggs and residents can try to identify where they’re located. Eggs will not be left at those actual locations, and people should not go out to try to find them, the city said.
The cities of Burbank, Beverly Hills, Culver City, Hermosa Beach, Long Beach, Santa Monica and West Hollywood also announced that their parks would be closed and that violating the orders could result in a misdemeanor charge.
Many churches are holding virtual services online.
“We celebrate Easter this year at home, but we know that our God is with us,” Archbishop José H. Gomez of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles said in a statement. “Even in times like this, when we see trouble in the world, and we are afraid for the future. Jesus rises to tell us that his love is stronger than death! Christ is risen and we will rise with him! This is the promise of Easter. Nothing can separate us from the love of God, not persecution, famine, pestilence, or plague. And not this pandemic.”
It’s been a surreal Easter at black churches in Los Angeles, as well, with pastors attempting to bring comfort to parishioners without in-person church services.
As a child, Los Angeles resident JoLeta Simmons didn’t regularly attend church, but on Easter, she went. She keeps a photo of herself standing outside a church in a dress and frilly bonnet, Easter basket in hand.
Later in life, she became a devoted churchgoer. Memories of Easter stick with her.
“I would go to the beauty college and get a press and curl,” Simmons said Friday from her Compton home. The curling would be “sizzling, and your hair was slick and curls were tight.”
Simmons said she was looking forward to celebrating Easter with her grandchildren and was in the process of getting custom-made dresses for herself and 3-year-old granddaughter. Then the coronavirus disrupted life.
“It doesn’t really feel like Easter,” she said. Normally, “the stores are crowded. The stores are crowded, but not with the joy and excitement of Easter. It’s more panic and worry.”
Others found new ways to bend traditions.
In the 35 years since Valerie Torelli, owner and founder of Torelli Realty, began putting on the annual Costa Mesa Egg Hunt at Tanager Park, it has never been canceled. Until now.
The event, which is a family tradition that usually draws some 500 people, won’t take place due to the social distancing restrictions caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
Torelli, in a continued effort to give back to the community and make the holiday special, determined that the Easter bunny was “essential.” She decided to dress in a bunny costume and drive through the streets of Mesa Verde as a way to entertain kids.
“Canceling was better than OK,” Torelli said. “As things shifted toward a new reality and going somewhere where people thrive, what would be more fun than an Easter bunny wave?”
Los Angeles County health officials warned Friday that residents of the region must adopt even more stringent social distancing practices to slow the spread of the coronavirus and that stay-at-home restrictions could remain into the summer.
Even with the dramatic social distancing county residents are already practicing, officials forecast that up to 30% of residents could be infected by midsummer without more behavioral changes, such as reducing shopping trips.
As a result, Los Angeles County is extending its stay-at-home order through at least May 15.
Times staff writers Luke Money, Hannah Fry, Times Community News reporter Susan Hoffman and City News Service contributed to this report.