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Photograph: Courtesy Unsplash/Cedric Letsch

L.A. County is encouraging people to stay home—but restaurants and other businesses can stay open for now

“This is the time to hunker down back in your home whenever you can.”

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We’re only days away from Los Angeles County’s initial target reopening date of July 4. And earlier this month, with more and more business sectors reopening, life was starting to look a little bit more normal. But things have taken a drastic turn in the past week.

On Monday, L.A. County reported 22 additional deaths due to coronavirus as well as 2,903 new cases—the largest single-day total, and enough to push the county past 100,000 cumulative cases. In addition, hospitalizations are on the rise and transmissions have increased within the community. As a result, we’re likely to see an increase in mortality rates and for hospital and ICU beds fill up within a matter of weeks, though the county says it has an adequate ventilator supply for at least the next four weeks.

Last week, the L.A. County Department of Public Health estimated that 1 in 400 people in the county were infected and not isolated. This week, it’s upped that number threefold to 1 in 140, meaning that it’s highly likely that you may interact with people who are infectious with coronavirus.

As a result, Public Health director Dr. Barbara Ferrer suggests that Angelenos should be staying home as much as possible. “This is the time to hunker down back in your home whenever you can,” she said during a press conference on Monday. Ferrer specifically suggested that the elderly and those with underlying health conditions should stay home; everyone else should stay home as much as possible and limit activities to what they really need to do.

At the same time, L.A. has not announced intentions to bring back its Safer at Home order, nor will it begin rolling back its reopening plans yet—aside from bars, which were ordered to close by the state on Sunday. Instead, Ferrer says that the first step is simply following the guidelines already in place for businesses like restaurants and retail shops. “If we do this right, we will get back on track without having to revisit the closing of any other sectors—nobody wants to do that, none of us like going back,” she said. “But it’s really going to take all of us at this point.” (UPDATE: On July 1, restaurants were ordered to close indoor dining rooms for at least three weeks. Outdoor dining remains open.)

That deviates a bit from recent remarks by California Governor Gavin Newsom. In a Monday address—after announcing last week that the state’s reopening plans are paused—Newsom added that reopening guidelines may be augmented, and that more restrictive ones may even be rolled out if necessary. “We are considering a number of other things to advance and we will be making those things public as conditions change,” he said. At the same time, while he’s asked Imperial County to reinstitute its stay-at-home order due to soaring positivity rates and has said that he’s “committed to intervening” there, he’s also continued to reinforce that he’d like to leave as many decisions to local health officers as possible.

Though L.A.’s retail stores and restaurants can continue to operate (even bars that serve food, despite the bars shutdown), compliance with reopening procedures isn’t particularly positive. Just this past weekend, 49% of bars and 33% of restaurants visited by Public Health weren’t adhering to physical distancing guidelines. And 54% of bars and 44% of restaurants were found to have workers not wearing masks and face shields. That’s… not good, especially considering that half a million people visited bars the day after they were allowed to reopen in L.A. In addition, the county has needed to provide reopening protocols—think of this as a warning—to 65% of retail stores and 83% of restaurants that it visited.

This all seems particularly troublesome as we head into the July Fourth weekend. “This is a big holiday weekend and would love to spend it with close family and friends,” Ferrer said. “I strongly advise against it.” She also said that the county will be working with mayors of beach cities to explore all of the options to keep people safe over the holiday weekend—particularly in regards to crowds at beaches, though no specific plans were offered yet.

Ferrer also reminded Angelenos that they shouldn’t be picnicking with people outside of their own household, and that in general we should be trying to avoid confined spaces, crowds and close contact with others. “I know we can do this because we have done it,” she said. “Please, let’s not let go of everything we worked hard and sacrificed for. We did slow the spread, and we must continue to work together to turn this around.”

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