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Growing number of Southern California facilities closing amid Omicron surge

The Federal Courthouse on 1st Street in downtown Los Angeles
The Federal Courthouse on 1st Street in downtown Los Angeles. Federal jury trials in Los Angeles, Santa Ana and Riverside have been suspended for at least three weeks.
(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

As Omicron spreads with unprecedented speed across California, a growing number of public and private institutions are moving to temporary remote work and closing some offices.

On Wednesday, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed an executive order extending the option for public agencies to meet remotely during the pandemic through March. The initial order, signed in September, was set to expire at the end of January.

In a sign of how widespread the coronavirus is, the share of tests coming back positive reached a seven-day rate of 20.4%, the highest during the pandemic, according to the California Department of Public Health.

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The state reported a massive backlog of 237,084 new cases Tuesday, a total that includes four days’ worth of data. This pushed the statewide seven-day average of newly announced infections to 50,267, easily eclipsing the high case counts seen during last winter’s deadly COVID-19 wave, according to data compiled by The Times.

Officials have not imposed any lockdown rules. But they have urged people to avoid large indoor gatherings and wear masks in public settings.

Hospital workers and other healthcare employees have been getting infected with the coronavirus in rising numbers as cases skyrocket in Los Angeles County, compounding staff shortages at medical centers.

Courts

Federal jury trials in Los Angeles, Santa Ana and Riverside have been suspended for at least three weeks.

Jury trials “would place court personnel, attorneys, parties, and prospective jurors at undue risk,” Clerk Kiry K. Gray said in a statement posted on the district court’s website. “Accordingly, a temporary suspension of jury trials is necessary to protect public health and safety, as well as ensure the continuous performance of essential functions and operations of the Court.”

Gray cited a recent increase in confirmed cases of COVID-19 within the district’s courthouses, but did not provide specifics.

In Riverside County, criminal and civil trials that are not already in session were suspended Wednesday through the end of the month.

Clerk of the Courts

The Los Angeles County Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk’s Office announced Wednesday it was suspending services at its LAX/Courthouse branch office.

Libraries

The Mission Viejo Library will begin requiring appointments to enter its facility, beginning Thursday. The city said the move is an effort “to manage the number of people in the facility and allow increased distancing” amid the recent coronavirus surge.

Supply problems have resulted in halting the free at-home COVID tests from L.A. County for now. Here are other options.

Communities

A growing number of cities are also closing some facilities.

Ventura County officials announced the region would close its buildings to the public as a precaution for three weeks starting Wednesday. Services will still be offered online and by appointment.

Newport Beach City Hall.
Newport Beach City Hall is temporarily closed starting Monday.
(Kevin Chang / Daily Pilot)

Starting Monday, Newport Beach also temporarily closed its City Hall and community centers. In a statement, officials said that “all city services will continue, although some will be conducted only through virtual and drop-off” methods, and that they anticipate the new protocols will be in place through mid-January. Newport Beach spokesman John Pope said the closures in his city are a reaction to both the community surge and an increase in employee cases of coronavirus infection over the holidays.

Officials in Huntington Beach announced a closure Tuesday for the time being. Parks, beaches, community centers and libraries will remain open, but all public meetings in Huntington Beach are expected to go virtual. City spokeswoman Jennifer Carey confirmed that department heads were encouraging city staff who were able to work remotely to do so to help ensure adequate staffing levels at City Hall throughout the closure.

Also on Tuesday, the Los Angeles City Council announced it will return to virtual meetings during January as officials assess the latest coronavirus surge. Meetings were held virtually from March 2020 through June 15, 2021, when the City Council resumed in-person meetings twice a week, although members of the public were still allowed to participate only virtually.

Poway City Hall in San Diego County closed because of numerous coronavirus cases among employees, officials said Monday evening. “We don’t take this closure lightly,” City Manager Chris Hazeltine said. “We are committed to balancing our public service responsibilities with the health and well-being of our employees.”

Malibu City Hall will close through at least Jan. 28.

And Monterey Park is halting some recreation and community services for the next few weeks.

Cal State L.A. is the latest California college to announce that it is going online for the start of the new semester.

Schools

So far, Southland schools have remained open amid aggressive coronavirus testing.

The Los Angeles school district has ordered tests for all students and staff before they return from winter break next week as a new period of high anxiety takes hold among parents and educators. In the nation’s second-largest school system, anyone who intends to step onto a campus next week to work or learn will have to show proof of a negative coronavirus test. The announcement was made hours after a hastily called special school board meeting Monday morning.

Many University of California undergraduate campuses began the term remotely after UC President Michael V. Drake asked chancellors for each site to implement plans for a safe return.

USC and other colleges followed suit. Cal State Los Angeles announced Tuesday it will begin the spring semester with three weeks of remote classes.

On Tuesday, USC said it will close its indoor home athletic events to the general public through Jan. 14, leaving the Trojans to play, for a brief time, in front of near-empty arenas again.

The San Diego Union-Tribune and City News Service contributed to this report.


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