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Garcetti plans to allow some businesses to reopen

LOS ANGELES — Mayor Eric Garcetti said May 4 he and Los Angeles County officials are discussing plans to relax some Safer at Home orders to allow certain businesses to reopen.

However, Garcetti said it will be some time before all businesses can resume and he did not provide a definite timeline on reopening.

“I want to be clear, this is going to be longer than just a couple weeks,” Garcetti said during his daily coronavirus update. “There [won’t be] a giant reopening. This is a series of steps that we have to assess each time, and they will succeed more if we practice the prescriptions that are given to us.”

Gov. Gavin Newsom said earlier Monday the state’s stay-at-home orders would be eased later this week, and counties will have some authority to develop guidelines in conjunction with the state that could allow additional types of businesses to reopen, with appropriate operating modifications.

“What I liked about what I heard was that [Newsom’s plan] allows folks in counties to do what makes sense in their region,” Garcetti said. “My promise to each and every one of you is we will continue to be guided by, first, the medical advice we get from public health professionals.”

Garcetti also said if the city and county reopen businesses too soon or incorrectly, it could undo all the social distancing and isolating Angelenos have been observing for at least the last eight weeks.

Businesses could be closed again after reopening if the coronavirus spreads and cases continue to increase.

“L.A. County has saved countless lives, and our death rate is lower than the national average, thanks to what you have done,” Garcetti said.

“But we nevertheless have suffered about half of the state’s COVID-19-related deaths, and our timing on opening may vary from other parts of the state.”

Garcetti said he hopes he can announce this week what businesses could reopen, when and in what ways, but said he would only make that announcement if health professionals are comfortable with him doing so and if the county and neighboring cities agree.

Safer at Home orders have been in place in Los Angeles since March 19 and are set to expire May 15.

As behind-the-scenes planning continued for the limited reopening of some businesses, more than 1,600 new cases of COVID-19 were reported in Los Angeles County May 5, the largest single-day jump during the pandemic.

Barbara Ferrer, director of the county’s Department of Public Health, noted that the large number of new cases — 1,638 — was due in part to a lag in testing data that typically occurs over the weekend, but it was also the result of ever-increasing availability of testing.

The new cases lifted the county’s overall total to 27,815.

Ferrer also reported another 58 deaths due to the coronavirus, increasing the county’s total number of fatalities to 1,313.

Of the 1,201 people who died for which ethnic data is available, 38% were Latino, 28% were white, 19% Asian, 12% black and 1% Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander. The numbers continued a trend showing a disproportionate impact of the virus on the black and Native Hawaiian communities in the county.

“When we present the information by percentages it often masks the fact that if we looked at actual mortality rates, our African-American and Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander neighbors and families are dying at a much higher rate than all others in L.A. County,” Ferrer said.

Nearly half of the county’s COVID-19 deaths, 49%, have occurred in institutional settings, primarily skilled nursing facilities. Ferrer said there have been 647 deaths among residents of such facilities. At least one confirmed or suspected case was being investigated at 342 institutions. Ferrer noted that investigations at 19 other facilities had been closed because no new cases at those locations have been reported in the past 14 days.

Ferrer said the county will be releasing details soon on a “road map” for businesses, but it remained unclear if the county will be more restrictive than the state in terms of business restrictions.

“The county’s approach to reopening is guided by the science and by the current status of our pandemic locally,” Ferrer said. “And we’re all looking forward to businesses reopening and getting back to work, and we all know we’re going to be on a slow journey together so we can continue to save lives and prevent overwhelming our health care system,” Ferrer said.

She again noted that the decision-making will depend on factors such as availability of hospital space and equipment, the availability of testing, the ability to trace contacts of those who test positive, and the continued impact of the virus on higher-risk populations. She noted that there will almost assuredly be more cases reported once businesses reopen, because more people will be “out and about,” but the county does not want to see a spike in the mortality rate, forcing the county “to have to go back and tell businesses to close again.”

“We have to do everything we can to be on a steady, slow path to recovery that makes sense for L.A. County,” she said.

She said planning for businesses to reopen will likely be in conjunction with Newsom’s anticipated guidelines, but she said she could not yet offer any specifics of what local retailers can expect.

“You’ve noticed how hard we’re all trying to be united across the state whenever it’s possibile, so I think it’s in that spirit that we look at what the governor is doing, and we try to make sure that we can align as is appropriate given the unique circumstances here in the county,” she said.“But I do promise you and all the retail businesses, you will hear from us shortly about what is the plan for L.A. County as we work together, look at all the information and make sure that we can move in a way that’s safe or as safe as possible for everyone.”

From City News Service