It’s become a weeknight tradition: Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti says a thing could happen, and the next day headlines roll out proclaiming that the worst-possible version of that thing will happen.
Listening to press conferences on the regular is an investment, so we thought we’d pass along some of the most important things that Garcetti has said recently, and what they mean in terms of the possibility of another stay-at-home order. (The super quick summary: Conditions could get better or worse depending on how we act. If they get worse in another week or so, we’re likely to see more sectors shut down—though let’s be real, much of L.A. is shut down again already.)
UPDATE: As officials continue to comment on the still-alarming situation in L.A., we’ll continue to update this story. The latest: On July 22, L.A. County public health director Dr. Barbara Ferrer was asked about the possibility of a shutdown. “Are we planning to shut down this week? No we are not,” she said. Though cities can choose to impose tougher restrictions, Ferrer noted that the county collaborates closely with them, and so “We have no anticipation this week of ordering a complete shutdown like we did in March.”
This follows remarks from Garcetti over the weekend in which he once again said that L.A. was “on the brink” of another stay-at-home order, while simultaneously saying that “mayors often have no control over what opens up and doesn’t.”
But he largely agreed with Dr. Ferrer following her remarks on Wednesday. “There are no imminent plans on my part, and I know on the county’s part… There’s no imminent plans to do that,” Garcetti said in an address. He noted that as long as hospitalizations, hospital capacity and positivity rates don’t get exponentially worse, a shutdown doesn’t appear to be necessary. “We are not imposing new things, but we do need to assess about 7 to 10 days from now… have we had success? Can we dial back to yellow? Or, if we don’t have success, is it getting worse?” He also reiterated that any future decisions would be more “surgical” and offer “plenty of runway.” In addition, Garcetti noted that “there’s not a lot actually that’s open right now that was at our deepest moment of shutdown not also closed besides retail.”
Our original story appears below.
We’ll start with this: Things are simply not good in L.A. right now. Thursday marked the highest-ever number of new coronavirus cases, with a record number of hospitalizations in the county throughout the week. “We’ve never had as many people infected or infectious,” Garcetti said on Monday night. “We’ve never had as many recorded positive cases each day. And we’ve never had as many people in the hospital as there are tonight as I speak to you in Los Angeles.”
And with that, Garcetti has repeatedly said that we are “on the border of going to red,” in reference to the highest-risk color of the city’s coronavirus threat level indicator (like the fire danger signs at the entrance of parks but with more of the vibe of the aughts’ terrorism threat level chart). Since Garcetti first announced the system at the beginning of the month, we’ve been on orange, where things are considered high-risk and Angelenos are encouraged to minimize all contact.
Here’s where things get a little messy: Over the past week or so, Garcetti has said that crossing into the red would see us “likely return to a mandated Safer at Home order” and that “red is when everything shuts down again—everything—to our strictest level.” At the same time, he reminded Angelenos that during the initial Safer at Home order, “even then, not everything was always closed.” Confused yet?
On Friday, thankfully, Garcetti offered his clearest explanation yet about what crossing into the red—of which we’re still right on the border—would mean in terms of potential shutdowns:
“For those who say shut it all down, we’re much smarter than that now. It was never all shut down. We had things like our construction trades, where we’re able to go in there, shut down work sites that are bad but keep other ones open and not have huge outbreaks. We’re able to do that with farmers’ markets, etc. We can figure out ways to not take just a cleaver straight across our city and cause the widespread suffering that many businesses and workers will never recover from. We can be more surgical. But it is time for us to take those surgical moves, wait a minute, see what the impact is and I will not be afraid to go further if we see those actions not having an impact.”
Garcetti’s remarks track with Governor Gavin Newsom’s persistent references to reopenings and rollbacks as “not an on and off switch, it’s a dimmer switch.” In addition, there’s been more communication lately from government officials about the relative safety of moving activities outdoors (as long as you’re doing so with members of your own household) and keeping those outlets open. “Outdoor dining, I think, has been a big success and not a place where we’re seeing spread,” Garcetti said in a recent address. “We’re not returning to closing down parks and open spaces because we’ve seen those aren’t places of big spread.”
We should maybe pause for a minute here and just remind that Garcetti can only make decisions for the City of Los Angeles, and not the county at large or other neighboring cities or counties. As a result, he’s often expressed his belief in the importance of consistent regulations, that opening or closing something in one place doesn’t mean much if you can do it in a neighboring place. That attitude can seem frustrating, though, as on Friday when he brushed off any responsibility for reopening too fast and instead seemingly threw shade on the county government. “Opening things up requires more discipline, quite frankly, than what was shown,” he said. “If we’re going to open things up, we should open something up, wait two to three weeks and see its impact, and then assess if we can take another step forward. That’s initially how this started and then we saw a domino effect—and I want to be clear, it didn’t come out of the city—but there was a domino effect of openings that just surged… They opened things up before we were able to get the feedback of two or three weeks to see, OK, maybe that thing was causing too much of an outbreak.”
The lag built into that feedback loop appears to be a key reason why L.A. hasn’t ordered more shutdowns just yet. Since it can take up to two weeks for coronavirus symptoms to appear in a person, and then additional weeks after that to regress into a state that requires hospitalization or causes death, the case numbers we see touted each day are basically a snapshot of how the virus was circulating around the community a few weeks ago. Garcetti made that clear on Friday when he said that “if you just go with this moment, you’re basically making decisions based on where we were two to three weeks ago instead of right now.” Similarly, it could take that same amount of time to see the effect of L.A.’s recent closures of indoor dining rooms as well as gyms and hair salons. “But if after those two to three week periods, so another week or so, maybe 10 days, we still see things getting worse,” that’s when we could see more actions taken, according to Garcetti. “Today would be more just going off emotion and not on necessarily what we see the impact of two weeks.”
He put a particular emphasis on hospital capacity being one of the decisive factors that would edge the city intro “red” territory. When you dive deeper into those numbers, it’s sort of a mixed bag. The infection rate has been oscillating above one, meaning that each person infected with Covid-19 will, on average, infect just over one other person. The latest metrics from the county show a slowly decreasing but still relatively stable supply of hospital beds, ICU beds and ventilators. Young people have become an increasingly large part of the positive case numbers, but their hospital stays are typically shorter (better treatments have helped, as well) and they’ve also kept the overall mortality rate lower—for now, at least, as L.A. County public health director Dr. Barbara Ferrer anticipates a rise in deaths in the near future.
And, sorry young people, but Garcetti placed some pretty explicit blame on your actions on Friday. “It’s not just about what’s open and what’s closed,” he said. “Much of this is also about our actions. You could close plenty more, but if young people were still congregating outside of their household in large numbers, we would still see spread.” And so that’s where, yes, things could get even worse than they are now and we could push into that red danger zone. Or, if we stay home a bit more, wear our masks and practice social distancing, we could push things toward yellow—which still isn’t great, but we’ll take it.
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