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95% of L.A. supports stay-at-home orders, poll finds. But for how long?

Life around Cesar E. Chavez Boulevard and Soto Street has slowed as California officials extended stay-at-home orders into May. Most Angelenos are are adhering to orders to wear masks while out running errands.
(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

Los Angeles County officials have said the stay-at-home order aimed at slowing the spread of coronavirus will stay in place until at least May 15 — perhaps longer.

The unprecedented social-distancing requirements, which have closed nonessential businesses, prohibited gatherings and shuttered beaches and trails, have been working. But more is needed, health officials say.

Polls suggest the public supports these measures — at least for now — even as the restrictions have devastated the economy.

In his nightly coronavirus briefings, Mayor Eric Garcetti has struck a tone that is one part stern dad, one part life coach, with a hint of Marianne Williamson.

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What does the polling show?

Ninety-five percent of respondents say they supported L.A. elected officials’ decision to implement a stay-at-home order for all but essential personnel, a new Loyola Marymount University poll found.

Those who identified as politically conservative tended to be more skeptical both of the stay-at-home orders and of the level of threat posed by the virus.

Only 76% of them viewed the virus as a real threat, compared with 91% among liberals. Conservatives also saw themselves as less vulnerable, with 74% saying they worried they would catch the virus, compared with 85% of liberals.

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“They have the level of fear; it is a real threat. They are worried about protecting their families, especially the elderly. There is a good understanding of how it spreads,” said Fernando Guerra, director of the Thomas and Dorothy Leavey Center for the Study of Los Angeles at Loyola Marymount University, which conducted the poll.

The poll surveyed 2,000 households in Los Angeles County. It had a margin of error of 2.2%.

Both the LMU poll and an earlier UCLA poll show concern among residents about the coronavirus pandemic. Overall, 78% of L.A. County residents surveyed told UCLA researchers they were “very” or “somewhat” concerned that they or a family member might catch the virus.

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“People view this as an existential crisis,” said Zev Yaroslavsky, a retired L.A. County supervisor and onetime L.A. City Council member who oversaw the UCLA poll. “They wouldn’t be adhering to this protocol of staying cooped up in their homes if they didn’t think there was a good reason for it.”

When will the stay-at-home orders end?

No one is sure. But health officials have said more time is needed.

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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 for several more months.

Even with the dramatic social distancing that county residents are already practicing, local officials forecast that up to 30% of the population could be infected by midsummer without more behavioral changes, such as reducing shopping trips.

While the strict physical distancing measures in L.A. County, which have been in effect for three weeks, have clearly had an effect in saving many lives, models presented by the county Friday show troubling forecasts if officials lift the stay-at-home order now.

There are still too many people becoming infected with the coronavirus in Los Angeles County, officials said. And there is more than a 50% chance that the current capacity of intensive care unit beds in Los Angeles County, roughly 750 beds now, could be exhausted by late April.

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Officials outlined the stark paths ahead for L.A. County. If the stay-at-home order was quickly rescinded and people resumed their normal habits, an astonishing 95.6% of L.A. County residents would be infected with the coronavirus by Aug. 1, according to projections released by the county.

Staying at the current levels of physical distancing would still result in 29.8% of residents being infected by Aug. 1. But increasing our efforts to stay apart from one another could reduce that to just 5.5% of Los Angeles County residents being infected in that time.

The death toll, meanwhile, continues to rise. Los Angeles County officials reported 31 new coronavirus deaths on Easter Sunday, the largest single-day total since the outbreak began.

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Twenty-five of those fatalities were people over the age of 65, and the other six were between the ages of 41 and 65, health officials said.

From the Plague of Justinian and the Black Death to polio and AIDS, pandemics have violently reshaped civilization since humans first settled into towns thousands of years ago. No one can know exactly how the COVID-19 pandemic will ultimately change the world. But stress cracks are already showing.

What about the economic toll?

The impact on the economy is the wild card, of course. It’s hard to know how public opinion will change as economic damage mounts.

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The UCLA poll found that nearly half of the households in Los Angeles County have lost a job or had their work hours cut, and an additional 10% have lost other sources of income because of the coronavirus pandemic.

In the LMU poll, 83% say they fear the economic impact from the coronavirus closures.


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