Reopening L.A. will be slow as coronavirus cases and deaths keep mounting

The streets are quiet May 5 in Little Tokyo.
The streets are quiet May 5 in Little Tokyo. L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti said different cities would need to take different steps to emerge from the shutdown.
(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

Some California businesses are expected to be able to reopen beginning Friday in the first major lifting of the state’s stay-at-home ban, which has been in effect for nearly two months.

But the extent of this shift is going to depend on regional conditions, and it still remains unclear how quickly Los Angeles County will see significant changes.

Officials in both Los Angeles and the Bay Area — where the coronavirus has hit the state the hardest — have urged caution in reopening. They say lifting stay-at-home orders too early could cause more outbreaks and hurt the economy further in the long run.

On Tuesday, Garcetti said he supported working on reopening “low-risk spaces,” such as trails, in the next few days and weeks.


Garcetti did say wholesale flower distributors were allowed to reopen, under certain circumstances, because they’re exempt from the state’s COVID-19 orders as agricultural businesses.

Flower markets are being monitored, and they could be shut down if they do not follow the city’s social-distancing guidelines. Sunday is Mother’s Day, which is regarded as one of the busiest times of the year for florists.

Garcetti said Monday that different cities would need to take different steps to emerge from the pandemic-induced shutdown and that city and county officials were still trying to determine the safest course.

“Our timing on opening may vary from other parts of the state,” he said. “I will reopen our city with careful consideration, guided by public health professionals.”

The mayor said he did not expect city businesses to be able to offer curbside delivery on Friday in step with Newsom’s outline. L.A.'s Safer at Home order is in effect until May 15 and Garcetti said that he hoped steps restricting commerce could begin to be rolled back by then.

Los Angeles County has been hit harder than other region in California, and that has heightened the concerns about reopening too early.

Los Angeles County officials confirmed 58 new COVID-19 deaths Tuesday, bringing the number of coronavirus-related fatalities in the county to 1,313. Of those who have died, 647 were living in institutional settings — the majority of which were nursing facilities.

Officials reported an additional 1,638 cases — a high number largely caused by a backlog in data reporting. So far, there have been 27,815 confirmed coronavirus infections in the county.

“We do know as we reopen, more people will be out and about, and we’ll see more cases,” said Los Angeles County Public Health director Barbara Ferrer. “Nothing has really changed about the virus since March. The virus didn’t get less deadly. The virus didn’t get less infectious. The virus is still out there.”

Two weeks ago, California reported its highest one-week toll — 542 fatalities among people infected with the coronavirus. Last week, the weekly death toll dropped 9% to 495.

Ferrer said L.A. County officials would be publicly sharing recovery plans this week, noting that “wherever it’s possible to safely reopen, we’ll be doing so as quickly as possible.”

Ferrer noted that although social distancing practices had helped slow the spread of COVID-19, the virus remains easily transmissible.

Still there have been some hopeful signs.

Los Angeles County, home to 55% of California’s COVID-19 deaths despite having only one-quarter of the state’s population, saw its reported weekly death toll flatten for the first time: 315 deaths in each of the past two weeks.

L.A. County saw a 2% decline in confirmed and suspected COVID-19 hospitalizations last week compared to the previous week.

Los Angeles schools will start fall classes on Aug. 18, but no decision has been made on whether campuses will reopen by that date, Supt. Austin Beutner said Monday.

Education officials in L.A. and across California are wrestling with how and when to bring the state’s 6.1 million students back to campuses that have been shuttered since mid-March — as they continue to adjust to the difficulties of distance learning and move to strengthen online summer school offerings.

In his remarks Monday, Beutner noted that it’s difficult to set a timetable for reopening campuses.

“The timing remains uncertain because the science is still uncertain,” Beutner said. “At a minimum, a comprehensive system of testing and contact tracing will need to be in place and the implications of the testing widely understood before schools can reopen.”

The district is in discussions with state and local health authorities and working with a team of UCLA experts in infectious diseases, virology, epidemiology and testing to guide them on reopening scenarios.

Such guidance is “critical,” he said, “because it will be the science, and only the science, which can provide a foundation for the safe return of our school community.”

The University of California could reopen just one-third to one-half of its dorm rooms this fall to keep safe distances among students amid the coronavirus outbreak. It’s unclear which students would get to return to campus or where other students would live.

Newsom on Tuesday tried to set expectations, stressing that social-distancing practices would remain in place as more people would be put at risk when restrictions were lifted.

“We have to maintain the core construct of our stay-at-home orders,” he said at a news conference.

Times staff writers Howard Blume, Taryn Luna and Hannah Fry and City News Service contributed to this report.