L.A. County safer-at-home orders to remain in place for several months, but ‘restrictions will be gradually relaxed’

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Los Angeles County’s stay-at-home restrictions will likely last for three more months to combat the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, county public health Director Barbara Ferrer said at Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting.

“Based on all of the data that we’re looking at … we know with all certainty that we’ll be extending health officer orders for the next three months,” she said.  

Both Ferrer and Supervisor Kathryn Barger issued clarifying statements after Ferrer’s comments were widely reported.

“While the Safer at Home orders will remain in place over the next few months, restrictions will be gradually relaxed” under the county’s existing roadmap to recovery, Ferrer said in a brief statement Tuesday evening. “We’re counting on the public’s continued compliance with the orders to enable us to relax restrictions.”

Barger also emphasized the relaxing of restrictions and said Ferrer’s comments to the board were “taken out of context.”

The back-and-forth comes three days before the county’s stay-at-home order is set to expire, and officials still have not issued a formal extension.

Mayor Eric Garcetti later clarified that the public health order wouldn’t remain as-is for three months, and he didn’t anticipate any radical changes to it in the coming week.

“I think quite simply she’s saying we’re not going to fully reopen Los Angeles — and probably anywhere in America — without any protections or any health orders in the next three months,” Garcetti said in an interview with CNN. “I think we know it’s going to be even longer than three months. … We’re not moving past COVID-19, we’re learning to live with it. We’re not going to go back to pre-COVID-19 life anytime soon.” 

The mayor noted, however, that populations who are more at-risk of adverse affects from the illness might need to stay home longer.

But for most, the order will be modified to include actions designed to keep the virus from spreading.

“We don’t have to freeze life or freeze our economy where it is, but we will need to continue to have a health order about covering our faces, physically distancing, protecting our vulnerable populations,” Garcetti said.

The county initially issued stay-at-home orders in mid-March. Those were supposed to last until mid-April, but were extended last month as cases in the nation’s most populous county continued to rise. 

But even if the restrictions continue for most of summer, the health director emphasized that restrictions could be relaxed earlier with progress.

“Our hope always is that we’re able by using the data to be able to lift restrictions slowly over the next three months,” Ferrer said at the meeting. 

But she also acknowledged that it would take a “dramatic change in this virus and tools we have at hand to actually fight against” it for that time frame to change. 

Those tools would include widely effective and readily available therapeutics to treat the illness, a vaccination, and home-testing and rapid tests kits that would let every person check themselves daily, according to Ferrer. 

Absent that, “what’s left are in fact the restrictions … that form the biggest part of our community mitigation efforts and contact tracing that we do to make sure we’re able to isolate and quarantine people as appropriate,” she explained. 

Based on the tools currently at the county’s disposal, Ferrer said the recovery process could take months. 

L.A. County is considered the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak in California, accounting for roughly 50% the total number of cases and deaths in the state. The county’s latest figures, released Tuesday, show there have been 33,180 cases, with 1,613 deaths.  

With a population of about 10 million and a significantly higher number of infections than anywhere else in California, the county’s efforts to lift coronavirus measures have been slow compared to other parts of the state, Ferrer noted. 

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

By the end of last week, the number of cases had plateaued enough though that the county moved into stage two of its five-phase plan to fully reopen the economy. That allowed some businesses, along with trails, golf courses and other outdoor recreational areas, to open again with modifications.

And this Wednesday, L.A. County will lift a monthlong beach closure, but only for exercise and other physical activities such as swimming, running, walking and surfing. 

However, even that progress could be slowed down further, or even wiped out, if another spike of cases is seen in the area.

“We’re gonna have to watch the numbers really, really closely,” Ferrer said. “If the numbers are really distressing, we might have to implement some restrictions again.”

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