With some Los Angeles County businesses set to reopen Friday, officials warned of a possible spike in the number of coronavirus cases if safety protocols aren’t followed.
Having more businesses opening their doors to customers again will mean more people out and about, and that’ll inherently mean there are more individuals at risk of infection and serious illness.
“As we begin this journey of recovery, some of us will be going back to work, and some of us will just be out and around more people,” the county’s public health director Barbara Ferrer said Thursday. “But that doesn’t mean that we’re now living in a post COVID-19 world.”
Even as officials loosen some restrictions, COVID-19 remains the leading cause of death in L.A. County and a “significant” number of people die because of the respiratory illness each day, she said.
Densely-populated L.A. County has about a quarter of California’s population but half of all coronavirus cases confirmed statewide.
Ferrer had a reminder for residents: “Just because something opens up, doesn’t mean you have to go out.”
What’s opening on Friday
The first wave of businesses and locations in L.A. County will reopen Friday, but they will all be required to implement safety measures to curb the spread of the coronavirus.
Flower, toy, clothing, music and sporting good stores will reopen for curbside pick-up only beginning Friday.
Car dealership showrooms, golf courses and trails will also be open again this weekend, but people must adhere to physical distancing and infection control protocols. On trails, people must wear face coverings.
“As we’re around one another more, it’s a good idea to act as if anyone could be infected with COVID-19, and that you too could be infected at any point in time,” Ferrer said.
Safety protocols for businesses opening in L.A. County
Health experts have emphasized that when businesses reopen, they will look very different. Customers and employees will have to wear facial coverings and keep 6 feet apart from each other.
“It will not be business as usual, as a lot of modifications will need to be made, but we hope our businesses will step up to the challenge for the safety of their workers, and for the general public,” L.A. County Supervisor Hilda Solis said.
In L.A. County, businesses are required to provide cloth face coverings to all employees that are in contact with others and ask everyone entering their business to wear a face covering, too.
There should also be limits on how many people can enter a business so that they can keep 6 feet apart; employers may have to stagger staff shifts in a way that’ll mean employees can work at a safe distance from each other, officials said.
People standing in lines should also be able to stand 6 feet away from others, Ferrer said.
And when possible, businesses should offer services by appointment to avoid crowds and long lines that could “inadvertently result in close contact,” she said, adding that having a record of appointments will also help with contact tracing if someone at the facility tests positive for the coronavirus.
Everyone should be able to wash their hands frequently and have hand sanitizer available, and employers should build in paid and frequent breaks for their employees to wash their hands, Ferrer said.
Even with some businesses getting the green light to reopen, the department is urging employers to continue to encourage staff to work from home if possible, especially for older people and those with underlying health conditions.
“For businesses to safely open, they must follow the protocols. These are not, sort of, recommendations,” Ferrer said. “These are protocols that must be followed in order for us to make sure that we’re as safe as possible.”
Ferrer encouraged those who spot a business in L.A. County that is not complying with the protocols to call 888-700-9995.
All open businesses are required to post a sign with their checklist of compliance with the protocols.
Detailed safety requirements for each sector allowed to reopen were expected to be provided later.
The danger that comes with fewer people sheltering at home
Los Angeles County recorded another 51 deaths and 815 new cases of COVID-19 Thursday, bringing the total number of cases in the county to 29,427 with 1,418 people who have succumbed to respiratory illness.
The vast majority of those who died have had underlying health conditions, according the health department.
“It’s so important to remember that if you have an underlying health condition, even as we enter into a journey for recovery, you are at serious risk of illness and devastating disease from COVID-19 and we ask you to continue to do your best to remain at home,” Ferrer said.
Ferrer explained that because of the 14-day incubation period for the coronavirus, the effects of easing restrictions will not be apparent for a while.
“So as we reopen it’s likely… that there can be more spread of the infection, but we may not see information to tell us that this is happening for a few weeks, so we are going to need to spend some time gathering information,” Ferrer said.
The health director gave a hypothetical scenario: In a county of 10 million, if 1 million who were sheltering at home start going out again to either work or get the new services, and just 5% of them become infected, that would mean another 50,000 people will have the coronavirus. And if 5% of those people become seriously ill and need hospitalization, that will overwhelm hospitals in the county, which together would only have the capacity for about 2,000 patients.
“When the data indicators don’t look good, we’re going to reassess and if that means taking a step back, unfortunately, we will need to take that step back,” she said.
In the meantime, residents will have to adhere to safety procedures to prevent such a spike in illnesses.
“Reopening our county, even slowly, only works if we’re all really committed to being careful, and we do all that we can to practice physical distancing, wearing cloth face coverings and washing or sanitizing our hands frequently,” Ferrer said.