You might’ve seen some headlines this week about Los Angeles County issuing a “legally binding” order banning parties after a deadly blowout at a mansion. But here’s the thing: Parties have already been banned in L.A. for months now.
We think some of the confusion stems from this statement that the county released on Tuesday (emphasis ours):
“The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health has issued a legally binding health officer order that prohibits gatherings, including parties, during this pandemic in order to protect the health and lives of county residents. Violation of or failure to comply with the Health Officer Order is a crime punishable by fine, imprisonment, or both and the Department of Public Health works with residents, businesses, city officials and law enforcement to be sure residents are aware of and adhere to the life-saving directives in the order.”
“Has issued” here does not mean “has just issued,” and instead refers to an order that the county “has issued” previously during the pandemic. On March 16, the county required events of 50 people or more to follow social distancing practices. By the announcement of the “Safer at Home” order a few days later, the county limited gatherings to 10 people, while the city banned gatherings of any size. And that’s still the case: The latest revision of the county’s health officer order, dated July 31, notes that “individual and family gatherings or parties of any size aren’t allowed.”
So how about the “crime punishable by fine, imprisonment or both” part of the county’s statement? That’s actually a little less clear. On Wednesday, L.A. County public health director Dr. Barbara Ferrer fielded multiple questions about enforcing the health order.
“One thing for certain is we will not be able to arrest our way out of the pandemic,” said Dr. Ferrer. “We’re only going to get through this with everyone doing their part.” She noted that the county receives thousands of complaints a week, and that it would be “foolhardy” to think that L.A. could ever have enough police or public health officials to shut down all noncompliant activities. Instead, Ferrer said “the better way for us to approach this is going to be by convincing everyone that we really need you to do your part.”
But two notable gatherings this past week point out some serious shortcomings in both the education and enforcement approaches. Early Tuesday morning, a woman was killed and two others were injured following a shooting at a party at a short-term rental on Mulholland Drive that attracted about 200 people. According to CBS L.A., despite the public health order, LAPD officers couldn’t break up the party without a warrant.
UPDATE: Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti announced on Wednesday that he’s authorizing the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power to shut off service to “the egregious cases in which houses, businesses and other venues are hosting unpermitted large gatherings.” Starting on Friday night, LAPD will provide notice and request that DWP shut off service within the next 48 hours. Garcetti specified that large parties will be the main target, not small house gatherings.
Only a few days earlier, KNOCK.LA broke the news about a party at Sassafras Saloon (currently shuttered under the state’s bar closure order) that was reportedly for members of the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department (the Los Angeles Times notes that LASD has denied any involvement, and that multiple agencies are investigating the event).
“These parties and gatherings with people not in your household hurt all of us,” Dr. Ferrer said. “We ask that everyone make good decisions. Don’t host large parties and don’t attend attend a party if you’re invited. It isn’t worth the risk you run, and it certainly isn’t worth the risk you’re creating for our recovery journey.”