LOS ANGELES (CNS) - The county Board of Supervisors is expected today to consider a possible new “targeted'' stay-at-home order in response to surging COVID-19 cases, but the county's public health director said she doesn't expect the directive to be as sweeping as the one issued at the onset of the pandemic.
The discussion will come one day after the county announced a single-day record 6,124 new coronavirus infections. Although about 1,500 of those cases were attributed to a backlog in test results from Sunday, the numbers pushed the five-day average of daily new cases above 4,500 -- the threshold set by the county last week to trigger a “targeted Safer At Home'' order.
Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said the board will discuss the proposed order Tuesday to determine what exactly it will entail. County officials said last week it would generally allow only essential and emergency workers and those securing essential services to leave their homes.
“I know for sure we're not going back to all of the restrictions that were in place in the original Safer At Home order (issued at the beginning of the pandemic),'' Ferrer said. “For one thing, we've learned a lot more. We have much more capacity on testing now, which allows us to do a better job quickly identifying people who are positive. And to everyone's credit, this is a county that when we had a surge before was able to, in fact, get back to slowing the spread.
“It did require us making some decisions about closing some sectors, but I think again this will be a conversation with the board,'' she said.
On Sunday, the county reached a 4,000 five-day daily average of cases, which was the previously announced threshold to cut off in-person dining at restaurants, wineries and breweries. As a result, the county announced Sunday afternoon that in-person dining would be prohibited beginning at 10 p.m. Wednesday, continuing for three weeks.
Although the Board of Supervisors signed off on the thresholds last week, Supervisor Kathryn Barger announced Monday morning that she plans to formally oppose the elimination of in-person dining. She cited estimates by the Los Angeles Economic Development Corporation that approximately 700,000 food industry jobs could be lost, with 75% of those losses affecting workers earning $50,000 or less annually.
“These proposed measures by the Department of Public Health will further devastate local businesses and employees who have been asked to shoulder an unfair burden this year,'' Barger said in a statement.
Barger said only 10-15% of positive COVID-19 cases are related to dining out with someone who tested positive, while more than half are connected to private social gatherings. Closing outdoor dining -- where compliance with health orders is high -- could also create the unintended consequence of prompting more private gatherings, she said.
“Businesses have made incredible sacrifices to align with safety protocols to remain open in order to pay their bills and feed their families,'' Barger said. “Increased case counts are not coming from businesses reopening, but from large gatherings where people aren't wearing masks. We aren't helpless in slowing the spread of COVID-19 and can protect ourselves and our neighbors by maintaining physical distancing and wearing face coverings.''
Ferrer insisted in her Monday media briefing that the board was fully apprised last week of the planned restrictions, including the end to in-person dining, and the county publicly announced the plans in a news release issued last week.
Supervisor Sheila Kuehl echoed that sentiment, telling City News Service the board was in full agreement last Tuesday about the ban.
“All five of us agreed,'' Kuehl said. “So I was surprised to hear that Kathryn (Barger) had taken it upon herself to individually express opposition. I don't see any support for that position anywhere and certainly, I don't support it.
“Outdoor dining is probably more dangerous in terms of contagion than any other kind of business,'' Kuehl said.
She said diners at restaurants “sit for hours with no masks on'' and are in close proximity to servers and patrons walking by.
Ferrer said she had no insight on what the board might decide to do on Tuesday.
“The Board of Supervisors will make their own decisions (Tuesday) and anything is always possible,'' Ferrer said. “They're elected and in fact they can make a lot of different decisions as a board.''
The city of Long Beach, which maintains its own health department separate from the county, announced that it will follow in the county's footsteps and also end in-person dining Wednesday night. Pasadena, which also has its own health agency, is still deciding. Some Pasadena City Council members indicated a desire Monday night to keep restaurants open for in-person dining, but City Manager Steve Mermell told the Pasadena Star-News that health officials were still weighing their options.
The 6,124 new cases announced Monday by the county, along with 102 reported by Long Beach and 31 by Pasadena, lifted the county's cumulative total to 370,769. The county also announced eight new coronavirus-related deaths, while Pasadena added one, raising the county death toll to 7,447.
The number of people hospitalized rose to 1,473, up from 1,401 on Sunday. That's more than double the daily number in the beginning of October, when it was under 700.
On Friday, the county implemented other restrictions that:
-- limited indoor “nonessential'' businesses such as retail stores, offices and personal care services to 25% occupancy;
-- limited outdoor cardrooms, miniature golf sites, go-kart tracks and batting cages to 50% of maximum outdoor capacity;
-- mandated advance appointments for customers at personal-care businesses and barred services that require customers to remove their face masks; and
-- restricted outdoor gatherings to no more than 15 people from a maximum of three households.
The county previously issued guidance limiting gatherings to three households, but there was no numerical limit on attendees.
The state on Saturday night imposed a soft curfew, barring “nonessential work, movement and gatherings'' between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m., continuing nightly until the morning of Dec. 21. Dr. Mark Ghaly, California's Health and Human Services secretary, said the state's order was not a hard curfew, indicating that people can still go outside of their homes, but they just shouldn't gather with others.
Asked about how restrictions will be enforced -- in light of Southern California sheriffs stating they won't be actively cracking down on health-order violations -- Ferrer said last week the county isn't relying on law enforcement, but rather hoping residents will take the urgency to heart to prevent local hospitals from being overrun.
Ferrer also noted that the surge in cases is not just the result of increased testing. She said the county's rising rate of positive tests shows that the virus is spreading more rapidly. The county's seven-day average daily positivity rate among those tested for the virus was 3.9% on Nov. 1, but it rose to 5.1% by Nov. 8 and stood at 7.1%. as of Saturday.
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