Warily watching daily caseload reports that could soon trigger more restrictive stay-home orders, Los Angeles County public health officials reported 4,522 new coronavirus infections on Saturday, Nov. 21, as the unnerving current surge showed no sign of relenting.

Meanwhile, California was poised to enact a nighttime curfew Saturday night as spiking coronavirus cases threaten to swamp health care systems. Statewide, the newest restrictions require people not on essential errands to stay home from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. through Dec. 21, with a possible extension if rapidly worsening trends don’t improve. People are allowed to shop for groceries, pick up food and even walk their dogs.

County officials Friday had already reduced the number of customers allowed for many businesses. Restaurants, breweries and wineries must cap occupancy to 50% of their outdoor seating. Indoor retail stores, personal care business and offices may have no more than 25% occupancy. Cardrooms and outdoor entertainment centers are now limited to 50%. No more than 15 people should attend any outdoor social gathering, and such groups should be limited to three households.

Officials had said that if the county averages more than 4,000 newly reported cases a day for a five-day period — or 1,750 hospitalizations — it would end in-person dining entirely; restaurants would only be able to offer food for takeout and delivery. If cases or hospitalizations reach 4,500 or 2,000, respectively, the county will go on lockdown and impose a stay-at-home order for three weeks.

However, county public health Director Barbara Ferrer said businesses would be given several days’ warning before the rules are enacted.

Hospitalizations, too, are posting dramatic increases, up to 1,391 on Saturday — the highest since August — representing a major increase from a month ago when daily hospitalizations were around 730. About 26% of patients are being treated in intensive-care units, officials said.

Over the past four days, the county has reported 17,769 new cases for a four-day average of 4,442. Sunday’s report will be closely monitored as officials watch for a five-day average that would switch on the tougher rules.

Thursday saw the county’s highest daily case count since the pandemic began with 5,031 cases reported.

Saturday’s county update did not include new figures from Long Beach or Pasadena, which operate their own health departments. Pasadena’s 30  new cases raised its total since the pandemic began to 3,311; its death toll of 131 did not change. Long Beach did not update its dashboard Saturday; as of Friday, the city had reported 14,999 cases and 270 deaths.

Another 34 deaths were also reported Saturday. So far, the virus has claimed the lives of 7,429 people in L.A. County and more than 250,000 people nationwide.

“We send our deepest sympathies to the families and friends that are grieving a loved one lost to COVID-19,” said Ferrer. “Although this pandemic seems like it will never end, I assure you that it will. We thank everyone who is working hard and has incorporated public health guidance into their daily lives. We ask everyone to renew their efforts to slow the spread by staying home as much as possible, to always wear face covering securely over your nose and mouth when out and to avoid being with those not in your household.

LA County, the state’s largest with about 10 million people, could see even more stringent lockdowns as early as next week as its caseload and hospitalization figures reach stratospheric levels. The county accounts for a quarter of the state’s 40 million residents, but it has about a third of the coronavirus cases and close to 40% of the deaths.

“We’re seeing cases increased at a faster rate than we saw over the summer,” Ferrer said. “The data looks really bad now and we’ve had … three terrible days in terms of case rates and increases in hospitalizations.”

Restaurant owners around the county hunkered down for the curfew.

“Before, we had closed at 10 p.m., seating our last guests around then,” said Chris Martinez, manager of Saint & Second in Long Beach’s Belmont Shore, on Saturday. “So this only really pushed everything back by about an hour. We still seat a good amount of people, but our curbside pickups have also gone up.”

Martinez added: “(A curfew) beats the alternative of being closed.”

But the new restrictions — and the promise of more — worried Gregg Smith, owner of three Pasadena restaurants, including the Parkway Grill.

“It’s tragic,” he said. “Especially after spending tens and tens and tens of thousands of dollars getting heaters and getting ready for the weather and cold, and now to be tossed this — boy, it’s tough.”

For Smith, it’s coming at the worst possible time. Much of his business comes from the holidays and he always has customers who want to stick around for a nightcap after their evening meals. He doesn’t know if he’s supposed to kick them out at 10 pm or not; he’s never done anything like that, ever.

“I think this whole thing has been totally mismanaged,” he said. “But for the health and welfare for our city, our state, our country, we will certainly abide by the curfew.”

West Hollywood, famously known for its clubs and vibrant LGBT community, “will be impacted like no other city” by the curfew, Mayor Lindsey Horvath said.

“These businesses have created places, safe places for our LGBT community to go out in particular, to enjoy our nightlife, to be together in community,” Horvath said. “It’s terribly heartbreaking to see what’s happening right now.”

Rocco Temasamani, who was selling jewelry at a stand at San Diego’s Ocean Beach on Friday, said the curfew will just anger people who consider it government overreach, particularly supporters of President Donald Trump.

“How are you going to enforce it?” he asked. “You have enough police to give out tickets?”

Authorities say the focus of the restrictions are on keeping people from social mixing and drinking — the kinds of activities that are blamed for causing COVID-19 infections to soar after dipping only a few months ago.

Dr. Mark Cullen, an infectious disease expert who recently retired from Stanford University, said the underlying goal is based on a reasonable interpretation of data.

“Large numbers of people getting together oblivious of controls — no masks, no social distancing, often indoors — a lot of those things are in fact occurring at night,” Cullen said. However, he also questioned whether a limited curfew will be effective.

The curfew applies to 41 of the state’s 58 counties that are in the “purple” tier, the most restrictive of four state tiers allowing various stages of economic reopening. Those counties encompass 94% of the nearly 40 million people living in the most populous U.S. state. LA County hasn’t budged from the purple tier since the program was instituted.

California as a whole has seen more than 1 million infections, with a record 13,000 new cases recorded Thursday.

Officials hope to avoid full-on lockdown orders of the kind enacted back when the COVID-19 pandemic was gaining steam in March. Public health officials since then have reacted to swings in infection rates by easing and then reinforcing various stay-at-home orders in an effort to balance safety and the economy.

The result, however, has been confusion and what some health officials term “COVID fatigue” in which people simply become tired of the rules and let down their guard.

Pushback on COVID-19 rules also came from groups representing thousands of fitness centers. Most gyms in the state have closed or are limited to outdoors.

The surge was also setting off impacts beyond the business limits.

January is no longer a realistic timeframe for Los Angeles Unified to reopen schools, outgoing board President Richard Vladovic said Friday. “Do I think it’s going to happen? No, I don’t,” he said. “The way it stands right now, I don’t think January is realistic, especially over winter break when people are going to be celebrating with families and traveling. I’m worried.”

School districts in counties that remain in the most restrictive tier on the state’s COVID-19 watch list, which includes Los Angeles County, aren’t allowed to reopen to the general student body anyway. But LAUSD has never opted to apply for waivers for partial reopenings due to concerns about the area’s coronavirus transmission rates.

Dozens of waivers for small-group reopenings have been approved around the county, but it remains to be seen if officials will allow that to continue.

The California Fitness Alliance said the administration of Gov. Gavin Newsom is using “arbitrary criteria that defy both science and common sense … to determine the level of risk at which businesses must close, causing thousands of Californians in the fitness field to lose their jobs.”

Health officials acknowledge that the curfew will help flatten the infection rates only if people heed it voluntarily. Violators could face fines or be charged with a misdemeanor, and businesses could have their business licenses revoked. But counties are mainly responsible for enforcement.

The curfew even could be counterproductive, said Dr. Lee Riley, an infectious disease professor at the University of California, Berkeley, School of Public Health.

Officials in London who tried a similar approach found that “if anything, for the young people it may have increased their social gathering activities,” he said. “They can’t go out, so they congregate in somebody’s home or dormitories.”

“I’m not sure how effective this is going to be,” Riley said. “But the state feels that they have to do something. I think it’s going to be mostly a cosmetic effect and not so much a real impact on interrupting this transmission.”

SCNG staffers David Rosenfeld, Bradley Bermont and Ryan Carter contributed to this report, as well as The Associated Press and City News Service. 

LA Daily News Original Article

Share and Enjoy !