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County to allow more retail businesses to reopen

LOS ANGELES — On a day when four dozen more COVID-19 deaths were announced, Los Angeles County issued a new, open-ended public health order allowing all retail businesses to reopen for curbside merchandise pickup only, except those located inside indoor shopping malls.

Also authorized to reopen were manufacturers that supply goods to lower-risk businesses, along with recreational facilities such as tennis and pickleball courts, shooting and archery ranges, equestrian centers, model airplane centers, community gardens and bike parks.

The county also authorized individual cities to temporarily close some streets to automobile traffic to provide additional space for residents to engage in outdoor recreation.

The loosened restrictions issued May 13 were included in a new “Safer At Home” public health order, replacing one that was set to expire May 15. The new order — which continues to urge people to stay home as much as possible, engage in social distancing and wear face coverings when interacting in public — has no expiration date, an indication such mandates will be in place for months to come.

The county’s “Safer At Home” order has never barred people from leaving their homes, but it continues to mandate closures of dine-in restaurants, museums and gyms, while also banning large gatherings.

On May 12, county Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer created a stir when she told the county Board of Supervisors that some form of public health restrictions will likely be in place at least another three months due to the continuing threat of the coronavirus.

The remark, made during a debate over a proposed moratorium on evictions, quickly made headlines and prompted groans from residents growing weary of business closures, stay-at-home orders and shuttered restaurants and bars.

But Ferrer — who has been candid for weeks about the likelihood that mandates including wearing face coverings and social distancing will remain in effect for months as the “new normal” — issued a statement later in the day to clarify her remarks. She did so again the following day, saying that while personal protective measures will remain in effect, other restrictions in the order will be loosened in the coming weeks.

“We continue to call our health officer order ‘Safer At Home’ to emphasize that all of us are still more protected when we remain home as much as possible,” she said.

She followed through on the promise that some restrictions will be relaxed, announcing that the revised order allows “all retailers” in the county to reopen for door-side or curbide pickups or deliveries. Stores that are located inside indoor shopping malls still must remain closed, but Ferrer said shops that are located in malls but have exterior entrances can open for outdoor pickups.

Also allowed to open are manufacturing and logistics companies that supply the reopening businesses.

The county last week allowed selected “low-risk” retail businesses — toy stores, sporting goods stores, clothing stores, music shops and florists — to reopen with curbside pickup only. Car dealers were also permitted to reopen, as long as they adhere to sanitation and social distancing mandates.

County hiking trails and golf courses reopened May 9, and county beaches opened for active use only on May 13.

“As a reminder, before a retail business or manufacturer or a warehouse opens, they are required to prepare, implement and post their compliance with our directives to demonstrate that they’re adhering to distancing and infection control practices that protect both employees and customers,” Ferrer said.

Those directives mandate face coverings for employees and customers, regular cleaning of “high-touch” surfaces and readily accessibility of hand-washing or sanitation stations.

Ferrer stressed that while more businesses are being allowed to open, full recovery “will be a slow journey.”

“In the last few weeks, we’ve worked together to slow the spread of COVID-19, and this will now be our new foreseeable normal in the future,” she said. “Everywhere we go, we will be taking protections. … This is because COVID-19 as a virus is still relatively easy to transmit, and it can cause, as I’ve noted, serious illness and death. That means that as much as possible, when you can, you ought to stay home.

“You ought to continue to adhere to the Safer At Home recommendations, stay with your households, there are no events or gatherings that are allowed. We ask that you help us make sure that as we are on our recovery journey, we take our steps together in a way that protects each other.”

Driving home the continued danger of the virus, Ferrer announced 47 additional deaths due to the coronavirus.

The new fatalities lifted the countywide death toll to 1,663. Ferrer noted that one month ago, the death toll was at 363, meaning roughly 1,300 people have died from COVID-19 in the county since mid-April.

Ferrer also announced 1,264 new coronavirus cases, raising the total to 34,552.

Roughly half of the coronavirus deaths in the county have been among residents of institutional settings, the vast majority of them in skilled nursing facilities.