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Coronavirus continues to devastate L.A. County while nearby regions ease restrictions

As thousands of sun chasers crowded open beaches in Ventura and Orange counties over the weekend, Los Angeles County wrapped up a week in which the number of deaths linked to the coronavirus doubled.

That number continued to rise Monday, as county health officials confirmed an additional 29 deaths and 942 new coronavirus cases. Public Health Department Director Barbara Ferrer said 11 of those deaths were among healthcare workers, and 92% of the nearly 950 individuals who have died in the county had underlying health issues.

Officials said that of those who died whose race and ethnicity has been identified, the death rate for African Americans is 13.2 per 100,000 people.

“This is significantly higher than the mortality rate of all other ethnicities and races,” Ferrer said.

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In the county of 10 million — California’s most populous — the number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 have surpassed 20,000. With a backlog in reporting the number of cases and testing capacity increasing, officials have said the number of those infected is likely far higher.

Medical troops with California’s National Guard have been deployed to assist staff at a handful of L.A. County nursing homes, which have accounted for 40% of the deaths linked to the virus. Officials continue to caution residents to distance themselves socially, even as warm weather lures people outside.

“We don’t want to undo all the good we’ve done and accomplished so far,” county Supervisor Kathryn Barger said Friday. “We are not yet on the other side of this pandemic, and we don’t want to prematurely ease restrictions.”

Southern California had its first big heat wave over the weekend, but L.A. County beaches are closed due to the coronavirus pandemic. Beaches in nearby counties were open, however. Here are a few scenes from the weekend.

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Officials outlined four targets that must be met before the county’s safer-at-home order can be modified:

  • Ensure that hospitals maintain capacity to treat both people who are sick and those with standard medical needs
  • Increase the capacity to care for those who are sick and protect the most vulnerable
  • Increase the ability to test, isolate and quarantine compromised individuals
  • Maintain ongoing physical distancing practices

Barger said the county’s Board of Supervisors will vote Tuesday on a motion to develop a plan to meet those requisites.

“I know all of us are eager to return,” she said.

She said the county’s top-three priorities to restore the local economy are the reopening of businesses, the establishment of funding services for small businesses and job seekers, and the ability for young people to return to a structured learning environment.

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The county’s stay-at-home order lasts until May 15. Ferrer said officials are hopeful that coronavirus deaths and overall case counts will begin to decrease by mid-May.

“We are going to be driven by our experiences — increase our capacity to test, identity people who are positive and then do contact tracing,” she said. “I think as we put those systems in place, we can be at the point where we can relax”

Nearby, some counties have already loosened similar restrictions.

In Los Angeles, Mayor Eric Garcetti seemed optimistic that social distancing measures were proving effective and said he believed “the curve really is beginning to flatten,” even suggesting that easing restrictions under the city’s safer-at-home order could be weeks away.

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Testing capabilities were continuing to increase, according to Garcetti, who said asymptomatic essential workers including delivery, ride-hail and taxi drivers, as well as journalists, will now be able to be tested for the virus.

“These are folks that are on the front line, helping us get where we need to go, delivering food to our apartments,” he said.

Garcetti also announced the city’s implementation of a program announced by Gov. Gavin Newsom last week that would pay out-of-work restaurant employees to cook meals for seniors. The mayor said the program would instantly put 150 people back to work. Depending on their income level, people who are either older than 65 or ages 60 to 64 with a preexisting medical condition may be eligible to receive meals from the program.

The city will pay for the meals, but those costs will later be partly reimbursed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the state government, Newsom said last week.

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Newsom on Monday reported a modest increase in hospitalizations throughout the state, where more than 43,000 people have tested positive for the virus and over 1,700 people — the majority of them from L.A. County — have died. The governor said California was “weeks, not months” away from modifying its stay-at-home order, but he noted that scenes like crowded beaches from the weekend could slow reopening efforts.

“The only thing that will set us back is our behaviors. The only thing that will set us back is if people stop practicing social distancing,” he said. “The virus is as prevalent as it’s ever been — nothing has changed in that respect. The only thing that’s changed is our behavior.”

Last week, Ferrer begged residents not to visit Ventura County, the first in Southern California to ease its restrictions, for fear of worsening the spread of the virus.

But if images from this weekend are any indication, it’s likely the massive beach crowds in Ventura and Orange counties included neighbors from nearby regions.

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These are some of the unusual new scenes across the Southland during the coronavirus outbreak.

Pacific Coast Highway in L.A. County, with its stretch of emptiness, stood in stark contrast to the highway in Ventura County, where numerous vehicles were parked. The first hot spring day would normally drive crowds to Santa Monica and Malibu beaches. But restrictions prevented people from even tiptoeing onto those beaches, let alone parking on the oceanside route.

Last week, Orange County Supervisor Lisa Bartlett said the area had been inundated with people from outside counties, including L.A. And after crowds descended on the shores in Newport Beach, the City Council is holding a special meeting Tuesday to decide whether to close beaches for the next three weekends.

“When you take a look at the folks that are coming down, they’re not only not adhering to safer-at-home policies in their own communities — they’re not even staying in their own counties,” Bartlett said.

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Counties are allowed to ease restrictions if they do not circumvent the state’s stay-at-home order, Newsom has said, while noting that the virus knows no boundaries or jurisdictions. But it’s clear that as counties continue to differ on their implementation of the rules, residents may blur those boundaries too.

Times staff writer James Queally contributed to this report.

More pressure is likely to be placed on Gov. Gavin Newsom to offer a clearer timeline to reopening California amid the coronavirus outbreak.


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