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Editorial: Amid coronavirus lockdown, we want to party like it’s 2019 this Labor Day. Just don’t

Beachgoers enjoy a warm, sunny day  near the San Clemente pier on Wednesday.
Beachgoers enjoy a warm, sunny day ahead of the Labor Day holiday weekend near the San Clemente pier on Wednesday.
(Los Angeles Times)

It’s Friday, the cusp of a Labor Day weekend that’s going to be a scorcher in much of the state, and we know what you’re thinking. Because we’re thinking it too.

It’s been a scary, frustrating and exhausting six months since the novel coronavirus showed up and turned daily life into a sort of dystopian hellscape. As if that weren’t bad enough, the last few months piled on the unpleasantness with massive civil unrest, abnormal and dangerous weather, wildfires and blackouts, presidential campaign nastiness and a sad and painful reckoning over the nation’s entrenched racism. Oh, and more than 185,000 people dead in the U.S. from COVID-19.

It sure would be nice to escape all the bad news this Labor Day and gather with friends and maybe a family member or two or five for a cookout or bonfire, or to lounge around someone’s pool to escape the roasting temperatures while saying “ciao” to a bummer of a summer.

Yes, it would indeed be nice — but we’re not going to be fooled again and hope you won’t either. Recent experience shows what could happen if we prematurely let down our guard, not to mention our face masks, while the coronavirus is still freely circulating. It’s a recipe for a giant toxic cocktail that may be refreshing in the moment but packs a killer hangover: a COVID-19 comeback.

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Remember what happened on Memorial Day? Coronavirus cases in the state were declining in late May, as were the numbers of people hospitalized with COVID-19, suggesting the end of the first wave was near. The state quickly lifted the lockdown, too quickly it turns out, allowing residents to flock to restaurants, stores and — what were we thinking? — bars and nightspots. Meanwhile, people opened their doors to family members they hadn’t seen in months, which proved to be one of the most significant sources of the virus’ spread, and turned out in the thousands to protest the police killing of yet another unarmed Black man.

The cost of this splurge of risk-taking became apparent within weeks, as COVID-19 cases soared and hospitals began filling up again. The problem was then exacerbated by Fourth of July revelry. In mid-July, Gov. Gavin Newsom reinstated some business closures until the caseload declined. The second wave of lockdowns seems to have worked, and now cases in the state and the county are back on the decline, at least for the moment.

We can help keep it that way by honoring the hard lessons learned earlier this year. The coronavirus is still very much present in Los Angeles. To date, there have been more than 245,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19, with younger people accounting for most of the recent spread, and at least 5,934 deaths. The picture may be improving, but Los Angeles County is still a virus hot spot and ranks at the bottom of governor’s new four-tiered system for determining which counties are safe enough to reopen more businesses and resume more activities.

The danger this year will be compounded by the excessive, possibly record-breaking heat forecast for the weekend, even at the beaches. For example, temperatures in downtown L.A. are predicted to hit a high of 108 on Sunday. High heat can be just as deadly as the coronavirus, especially if the power goes out. And it may if electricity demand once again outstrips supply. The heat brings extra virus peril too because it may drive cookouts and gatherings inside. That’s a problem because the virus spreads much more easily in enclosed areas, with everyone breathing the same air, than it does outdoors.

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This is not to say we can’t celebrate Labor Day safely and without losing the power. But it means thinking small and focusing on the little joys of life. A socially distanced walk with one dear friend. An early morning hike on one of the region’s many trails. Sitting in front of the fan with an interesting book. Playing with the kids or dog in the sprinkler. A family outing to the beach (just don’t let others crowd under your umbrella). Soaking in a blow-up kiddie pool on the balcony or patio. Delivering a grilled meal to family members at high risk for COVID-19. Raising a glass with your partner at sunset to toast the reopening of hair salons and barbershops. Hooray for haircuts!

It’s been a long, strange terrible summer, and we’re glad it’s nearly over. But the relief will be short-lived if we celebrate our way heedlessly into a long, strange and terrible fall.


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