L.A. County Ramps Up Planning for Coronavirus

LOS ANGELES (CNS) - A portion of Los Angeles County's request for more than $7.5 million in federal funding to address the threat of coronavirus will be granted today, even before the paperwork makes it to Washington, authorities said today.

``They are releasing the funds effective today,'' Supervisor Kathryn Barger told her colleagues at the Board of Supervisors meeting, clarifying in a statement that $2.3 million would be immediately available.

The federal funds will be used for lab testing, protective equipment, community outreach, travel monitoring, training and other measures to stem the spread of the disease.

``Los Angeles County is in the forefront to protect the public from this global health threat,'' Barger said in her original motion asking that the board send a request for monies to Washington.

During an update to the board and in response to a question from Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said her department was beginning to work out plans for isolating homeless individuals who might contract the virus in the future.

``We are very concerned that a novel coronavirus can disproportionately devastate people who are experiencing homelessness,'' Ferrer said.

People living on the street cannot follow advice offered to other residents to frequently wash their hands or to stay home when sick, she noted. They are also less likely to have access to a doctor and often have compromised health.

Though there has not yet been any ``community spread'' of the virus in Los Angeles County, and all current cases are traceable back to close contact with other confirmed cases, Ferrer said her team is making preparations in case that changes.

Public health workers are visiting nearly 350 shelters and interim housing facilities countywide to make plans with administrators.

``This is a unique situation,'' Ferrer said. ``Only to L.A. County honestly, in terms of the magnitude.''

Separately, Supervisor Janice Hahn called for the county to prepare for large numbers of county employees to work from home if necessary.

``What if ... we had to ask 50,000 to stay home ... would we be able to function?'' Hahn asked. ``Does everybody have a laptop?''

Hahn noted that rules for social interaction are changing in response to the virus and that employees used to ``getting a cold star'' for working through an illness would now have to learn to stay home when sick.

She may have to make some adjustments of her own.

``We've got to change the way we greet people'' and no longer shake hands or kiss people on the cheek, Hahn said. ``Politicians, it's hard to not shake hands.''

She called for a report back on county teleworking in 30 days.

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