Coronavirus Grips Southland; Events Scrubbed as More Cases Confirmed


LOS ANGELES (CNS) - The coronavirus outbreak continued to rock the Southland and the nation today, as Los Angeles County confirmed three new cases, theatrical venues shuttered productions and Los Angeles City Hall closed its doors to visitors.

Even Disney fell victim to the virus, announcing that its Disneyland and California Adventure theme parks in Anaheim will close Saturday and remain shuttered through the end of the month.

All major sporting events were scrubbed, with the National Hockey League and Major League Soccer joining the National Basketball Association in suspending their seasons, and Major League Baseball pushing back opening day by at least two weeks. Santa Anita race track in Arcadia closed its doors to the public, although horse races themselves will continue.

Theater companies across the Southland canceled performances, with even the much-anticipated return of ``Hamilton'' at the Pantages Theatre in Hollywood being put on hold just hours ahead of its opening night.

The cancellations followed Gov. Gavin Newsom's order canceling all public gatherings of 250 people or more. Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti went further, barring gatherings in city facilities of 50 people or more while also closing the iconic City Hall building to all but municipal employees, except during City Council meetings.

``We're entering a critical period, and I'm confident we will get through this together,'' Garcetti said during a mid-morning news conference downtown.

Dr. Barbara Ferrer, head of the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, confirmed three new cases of coronavirus, or COVID-19, two of whom had no known exposures to the illness, offering further evidence of ``community transmission'' of the illness.

The third new case was exposed to the illness by a ``close contact'' who tested positive after attending a conference in Washington, D.C.

The new cases brought the county's total to 32 -- 27 overseen by the county Department of Public Health, four by Long Beach health officials and one by Pasadena health. As of Thursday, only one person has died from the illness --

a woman in her 60s who lives elsewhere but was visiting friends in the area after traveling, including a long layover in South Korea.

With more patients contracting the illness from unknown origins, Ferrer joined state and local officials in encouraging ``social distancing,'' particularly among the elderly, pregnant women and people with underlying health conditions.

``What taking it seriously means right now is everybody doing their part, everybody putting up with what is really disruptive to our day-to-day lives, us all figuring out how we help each other, particularly those that are going to be economically really disadvantaged and making sure that we have a safety net for folks,'' she said.

``... It means understanding that even if your risk is relatively low for serious illness, if you in fact are exposed and then infected, you can in fact infect other people who have a much higher risk of serious illness,'' she said. ``We're one big family around this globe right now. If nothing else has made it clear, this virus has. The virus knows no geographic boundaries, and it's not a virus that in fact is either rooted in or affects certain races or ethnicities more than others. It's a virus that's here in our world today, and we need to take swift action to try to slow the transmission.''

Ferrer noted that more local cases of coronavirus are likely, particularly given the increased availability of testing thanks to private labs complementing public health labs.

``If more people get tested and we have more virus circulating, we are going to find more people who are positive,'' she said.

Despite widespread cancellation of events across the Southland, and a move by most higher-education facilities to hold online-only courses, Los Angeles Unified School District campuses remain open. Ferrer said the schools ``are safe places,'' and she said she has been in close contact with the LAUSD and Los Angeles County Office of Education.

``I think schools will continue to be safe places for the vast majority of our students,'' she said.

But Alex Caputo-Pearl, president of United Teachers Los Angeles, the union representing LAUSD teachers, called on the district ``to proactively close all public and charter schools within LAUSD.''

He said ``a proactive approach that gets ahead of the game rather than a reactive approach ... is the key here.''

Caputo-Pearl also called for a 10-point ``social safety net'' program, including an additional two weeks of paid leave to cover a possible coronavirus quarantine period, free health care for coronavirus patients and free internet access for students.

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