LOS ANGELES, CA — Los Angeles County leaders are reportedly mulling additional closures to head off the health crisis posed by the raging coronavirus outbreak. Despite the Stay-At-Home orders in place since early December, the coronavirus continues to spread dramatically, overwhelming hospitals and morgues. County officials are scheduled to discuss the additional closures of businesses such as gyms and indoor shopping malls Friday.
In Los Angeles County, someone is dying of the coronavirus every six minutes and county officials have struggled to weigh economic interests against the climbing death toll.
The county Board of Supervisors held a special closed-door meeting Friday afternoon, with multiple reports suggesting the panel would be discussing possible new restrictions, potentially closing indoor shopping malls and other non-essential businesses. The board, however, met for only about 10 minutes before emerging and announcing that no reportable action had been taken in their session.
As of late Friday, however, no announcement had been made.
Asked about possible new restrictions being imposed, Dr. Paul Simon, the county Department of Public Health chief science officer, said Friday afternoon that while he had not been advised of any impending announcement, "all possible potential interventions are on the table."
"I know we're having discussions in the county to determine if additional measures are needed," he said, noting the county's concern "about the high level of spread of the virus in the community."
Most retail businesses in the county, with the exception of grocery stores, are operating under strict 20% capacity limits under a regional stay-at-home order imposed by the state due to a lack of intensive-care unit beds across Southern California.
During a media briefing Wednesday, county Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer would not rule out the possibility of additional health restrictions being imposed, particularly in light of soaring COVID infection numbers, hospitalizations and deaths. She also noted the likely presence in the county of a new coronavirus variant first discovered in the United Kingdom. The new strain of the virus does not make people sicker, but it is far more contagious, meaning it can spread more rapidly from person to person, rapidly driving case numbers even higher.
"Current projections by the experts predict that if left unchecked, this variant could dominate locally by March," Ferrer said.
She urged residents to continue adhering to existing health restrictions while suggesting more may be needed.
"We should be prepared to do more if cases remain high," she said. "The work ahead requires us to take every action necessary to reduce transmission."
Asked Thursday night about possible new business closures or other restrictions, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said, "That's something I know that the county is looking at."
"I think it's the obvious categories of things people have looked at - - whether or not schools stay open and closed, whether outdoor gyms and recreational youth leagues stay open and closed, indoor malls, retail, things like that," Garcetti said.
The mayor said that given the potential danger of the UK variant of the virus, "we have to always be open and I will always follow the science and the advice of our public health (leaders) ... and the county supervisors, who I know are making very difficult decisions and are incredible leaders right now trying to figure out whether or not there should be further closures."
Simon stressed, however, that health restrictions imposed by the county are only effective if people actually adhere to them.
"We've closed an awful lot here, and the public is just plain exhausted, I think," he said. "And we've seen less adherence to the restrictions. ... We can implement additional restrictions but unless they're adhered to, they're not going to have the desired impact. We're not a police state. It would be very difficult to use some of the extreme measures that have been done in other countries."
He implored people to adhere to restrictions as much as possible and continue to do what they can to minimize their risk of infection.
"Even if people can't do everything all the time, try to minimize the risk," he said. "It's hard to deal in absolutes -- never leave your home ... or never see anybody outside your household. That's a difficult message."
Ultimately, he said, "We're just urging people to hang in there. We're moving in a favorable path with the vaccine."
City News Service and Patch Staffer Paige Austin contributed to this report.