Los Angeles will close beaches and ban fireworks displays over the holiday weekend as California officials warned that further restrictions may be necessary to curb a troubling spike in coronavirus cases in much of the state.
Large Fourth of July gatherings are “a recipe for increased transmission of COVID-19,” Barbara Ferrer, Director of Public Health for Los Angeles County, said Monday.
The 10-million-resident county hit a one-day record of 2,903 confirmed cases and more than 100,000 overall.
Ferrer warned Los Angeles could soon be on a “runaway train.” She said the county’s infection rate among those tested has reached 9%. The state’s rate is about 5.5%.
Nearly three-quarters of California’s 40 million residents live in counties experiencing concerning coronavirus trends, Gov. Gavin Newsom said. He vowed to step up enforcement of health orders and, if things don’t improve, reverse reopening.
Newsom’s comments came a day after he ordered bars to close in Los Angeles and six other counties and suggested eight other counties do the same on their own. By Monday afternoon, three of the state’s largest — San Diego, Riverside and Sacramento — said they would voluntarily close bars. In the San Francisco Bay Area, Contra Costa County delayed its planned Wednesday reopening of bars and indoor restaurant dining.
San Diego, California’s second-most populous county, acted even though it is not on a state watch list for counties with the most concerning COVID-19 trends.
“We don’t want to wait to be forced to take an action when we know that it is the wise and responsible thing for us to do now,” said Supervisor Nathan Fletcher, who is self-quarantined after close contact with someone who tested positive.
Los Angeles is one of 19 counties on the watch list because of a combination of increased cases, infection rates and hospitalizations. Those on the list for 14 days must close bars.
Newsom said other rollbacks for businesses could come, though he gave no details. He also said the state would increase enforcement of its virus-related orders, including the mandate for face coverings in most settings.
“It is incumbent upon all of us to do what we can to lead by example,” Newsom said.
Imperial County, on the Mexico border, has seen cases surge, and Newsom said if local officials didn’t act appropriately the state would order broad restrictions. Hours later, supervisors agreed to reenact restrictions similar to those imposed by the state nearly two months ago. Officials will urge residents to stay home, ask houses of worship to conduct virtual services and encourage curbside pickups at stores and restaurants. All county parks will be closed and gatherings of any size will be prohibited.
Dr. Mark Ghaly, head of the California Health and Human Services Agency, said the state was organizing “strike teams” to help struggling counties avoid an “alarming rate of spread” that could force officials to reimpose a stay-at-home order.
Two alternative hospital sites poised to start shutting down July 1 due to lack of need will be reactivated, said Brian Ferguson, a spokesman for the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services. The Fairview Developmental Center in Southern California may assist with hospital surges in the LA area, and the Porterville Development Center in the Central Valley could be used to treat virus patients sickened in prisons, Ferguson said.
California was the first state to issue a mandatory stay-at-home order in mid-March. Newsom began relaxing restrictions in early May, and the pace accelerated into June. Retail shopping and restaurant dining now are allowed virtually everywhere, beaches and parks have reopened, and most of the rest of the economy is operating, albeit with restrictions.
In Los Angeles County, all public beaches and their piers, parking lots and bike paths will be closed again from 12:01 a.m. Friday to 5 a.m. Monday. Weekend fireworks displays will be banned, to discourage large gatherings.
“COVID-19 is taking control,” Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said. “And we need to take control back.”
California has greatly ramped up virus testing, and Newsom and health officials warned that would bring an increase in the number of confirmed cases. But recently the infection rate and hospitalizations also have increased — admissions to intensive care units are up by more than a third in the last two weeks, Newsom said.
Bars were cleared to reopen June 12, about a week before Newsom imposed his statewide mask order. And while no county outbreak has been tied specifically to bars, there have been many images and videos circulating on social media showing crowded establishments with patrons failing to keep their distance and wear masks.
For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some — especially older adults and people with existing health problems — it can cause more severe illness and death. California’s death count is just under 6,000, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.
Even with concern over trends, California announced guidance allowing for visits to patients in nursing homes and other nursing care facilities, which have accounted for a large portion of cases and deaths.
Nursing homes that can meet certain criteria may let residents designate one visitor. Those criteria include no virus diagnoses among facility residents or staff for 14 days.
Facilities that can’t meet those guidelines can allow scheduled indoor visits if people stay distant and wear face coverings.
Newsom also announced more inmates may be released to mitigate outbreaks in prisons. The state previously let out 3,500 people who were within 150 days of release, and Newsom said 3,500 more could be released under the same criteria.
Associated Press writers Cuneyt Dil in Sacramento, John Antczak and Christopher Weber in Los Angeles and Amy Taxin in Orange County contributed.