Some businesses violated social distancing measures during L.A. County’s first days of reopening

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More than a third of Los Angeles County businesses surveyed by health inspectors over the weekend were in violation of policies like requiring customers to wear face coverings, officials said Monday.

However, many residents and businesses did cooperate with restrictions for the limited reopening of retail stores, hiking trails and other places over Mother’s Day weekend, according to L.A. County Supervisor Kathryn Barger. “Overall, we had no issues with crowding,” she said.

Still, several reopened stores did not practice social distancing. After surveying 410 businesses, health inspectors found 162 in violation of certain measures like keeping people six feet apart and requiring masks, according to L.A. County Health Dr. Barbara Ferrer. That’s nearly 40% of the businesses inspected. She said “a few” of the stores were forced to close over violations.

Mayor Eric Garcetti said city inspectors issued notices of violations to 27 businesses.

Clothing stores, florists, toy shops and car dealerships were among the first businesses allowed to reopen with curbside service on Friday, followed by some trails, golf courses and other outdoor areas Saturday. It marked some of L.A. County’s first steps toward a gradual reopening after several weeks of closed schools, churches, businesses and more over the COVID-19 pandemic.

The virus has killed 1,569 people in the county including another 39 reported Monday, according to health officials. Another 591 cases were announced, bringing the total to 32,258 known infections across L.A. County.

On Monday, officials said a new health order would be issued Wednesday announcing changes such as the reopening of beaches for “active use” such as surfing and walking. For several weeks, L.A. has kept its coastline closed even as neighboring Orange and Ventura counties reopened.

Compared to a month earlier, the daily number of infections and deaths has dipped slightly in L.A. County, allowing officials to roll back some restrictions. “Right now, we’ve had a fair amount of stability,” Ferrer said Monday. “We’ve actually had some tiny decreases.”

But the region continues to move at a slower pace in reopening than many other parts of California, something Ferrer attributes to population, density and the number of people who have been infected.

“It would be great if we could all reopen at the same time,” Ferrer said. “But literally half the cases and half the deaths (in California) are here in L.A. County right now.”

As major cities and countries start reopening, health experts around the world are warning of possible spikes in infections. An influential model from the University of Washington — updated Sunday — indicates California could see more than 6,000 deaths by Aug. 4.

It’s a troubling prediction that could change the course of plans in L.A., Ferrer said.

“We’re gonna have to watch the numbers really, really closely,” she said. “If we were to see the kind of spike that’s predicted in that model, that would be extraordinarily worrisome and would result in us either moving more slowly than we are moving — which is very slowly…” Or, Ferrer said, “if the numbers are really distressing, we might have to implement some restrictions again.”

In six Bay Area counties, officials have indicated they will not ease restrictions on retail stores for at least another week. Much of the region issued shelter-in-place orders sooner than counties in Southern California when pandemic-related closures first started in March.

The approach to reopening plans is varying across regions, counties and cities. In L.A. County, officials are hoping they can continue to open more stores and keep lifting restrictions if people stay 6 feet apart, cover their face and avoid crowds.

“You have to have a mask when you’re coming into contact even if it’s just passing by somebody on a trail,” Garcetti said. “And the best way to keep your distance is to avoid crowded areas, think about other parts of parks that you haven’t been in before.”

He said the city will shut down trails and other recreational areas if they get too busy.

Vastly expanding testing is “critical” to moving toward allowing gatherings at restaurants, houses of worship and sporting events, Barger said. It’s one of four key benchmarks needed to be met before the county can reopen. So far, Barger said, more than 200,000 people have been tested.

According to Ferrer, about 92% of the people who have died of the virus in L.A. County had underlying health conditions. However, she said, one of the 39 deaths reported in the last day was that of a person between 18- and 40-years-old who had no underlying conditions.

Health officials have been targeting their testing efforts on vulnerable populations such as people over the age of 65 or those have underlying conditions. They have also been focusing on so-called institutional settings where people live in close quarters such as shelters, nursing homes, jails and prisons. More than 350 of these places are under investigation for cases of the virus.

With increased testing at nursing homes and hospitals, health officials reported another 636 confirmed cases among medical workers and first responders since last week.

In total, 3,614 health care workers have tested positive, which makes up more than 10% of all known cases. A total of 20 health care workers have died, Ferrer said, and 14 were staff at skilled nursing facilities which continue to be among the hardest hit.

“Our health care workers are the heroes of this pandemic,” Ferrer said. “Their dedication and their courage saved lives.”

Nursing facilities continue to grapple with a growing number of deaths and infections. Along with so-called institutional settings such as shelters, jails and treatment centers, they are tied to 8,164 known cases and 779 deaths, or about half of all fatalities countywide, Ferrer said. The “vast majority” of those deaths were of residents at skilled nursing facilities, she said.

As for the county’s incarcerated population, three underage individuals at juvenile facilities have been infected in addition to 12 cases among staff, according to Ferrer.

Over the weekend, another inmate at Federal Correctional Institution, Terminal Island died of COVID-19, Ferrer said. A total of seven incarcerated people at just that one facility have died.

With 671 infections among inmates and staff, the federal prison population has fared worse in known cases than other correctional facilities. County health officials said 444 cases have been confirmed among jails and another 154 in the state prison population.

Meanwhile, 23 homeless shelters are under investigation including a facility tied to at least 14 cases, officials said. A total of 234 cases have surfaced among people experiencing homelessness.

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