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Coronavirus Cases Increase in L.A. County, Which Orders Bars Closed

Employees at a West LA bar prepare to close under an order from Mayor Eric Garcetti | Photo by Karen Foshay
Employees at a West LA bar prepare to close under an order from Mayor Eric Garcetti | Photo by Karen Foshay

LOS ANGELES (CNS) - Los Angeles County health officials confirmed 25 new cases of coronavirus today, bringing the total to 94, while the county also ordered the closure of all bars, gyms and entertainment centers and restricted restaurants to carry-out or delivery service only.

Dr. Barbara Ferrer, head of the county Department of Public Health, said the agency is continuing to see an increase in "community transmission" of the illness -- meaning people are contracting the virus without any known source of exposure.

"If something it not an essential activity, I urge you not to do it," Ferrer said. "In the absence of a vaccine, social distancing is the best tool that we have."

Of the 25 new cases, five have no known source of exposure to coronavirus, Ferrer said. One was exposed during travel to an outbreak area, one had close contact with another patient and the other 17 cases are still under investigation to determine the exposure source.

Ferrer noted that the county has confirmed 41 new cases in the last 48 hours, and 15 of its 94 cases are attributed to "community transmission." Ferrer has repeatedly said the number of cases will continue to rise as more people are tested.

In an effort to "flatten the curve" of new cases through social distancing, the county ordered the closure of all bars, fitness centers and entertainment centers, effective immediately. Restaurants will also no longer be able to offer sit-down service, but will be restricted to takeout or delivery service.

The mandate applies to all cities within the county, as well as unincorporated areas.

The city of Los Angeles issued a similar mandate for the city on Sunday night, following Gov. Gavin Newsom's recommendation that such restrictions be enacted statewide. Newsom only recommended the actions, but he did not order them to be implemented. He said restaurants that remain open should cut their capacity in half. He also recommended that people older than 65 self-quarantine in their homes, because they are more susceptible to becoming more seriously ill if they contract the virus.

Newsom said Sunday that six people in the state have died of COVID-19.

Garcetti announced the city restrictions on bars and restaurants during a Sunday night news conference at City Hall.

"Everything we do right now will determine the outcome of this crisis, and we can save lives if we stay calm, care for one another, and take forceful steps to protect our communities," Garcetti said. "That's why we must follow the guidelines laid out by Gov. Newsom, build on them for local needs, and put the health and safety of the most vulnerable above all else. Los Angeles has weathered enormous challenges before, and our strength and resilience are this city's most powerful assets."

Restaurants across the city quickly began complying with the dine-in restrictions. One of the city's most famous eateries, Philippe The Original, closed its doors entirely in what is believed to be the restaurant's first closure in a century. Owners said the restaurant would not be offering delivery or takeout in order to protect its staff. All food in the restaurant at the time of the closure was donated to the Los Angeles Fire Department for distribution to firefighters and people in need.

"We are working to be as socially responsible as possible at this time," Philippe's managing partner Andrew Binder said in a statement. "We're a community and we are trying to combat this as a whole."

The city of Santa Monica closed the Santa Monica Pier, parking deck and affiliated businesses starting today as part of its local emergency proclamation.

The Los Angeles Police Department said the first case of COVID-19 within the department was confirmed Sunday in one of its Pacific Division supervisors. The supervisor exhibited flu-like symptoms March 5 and was sent home. He is improving and expects to make a full recovery, according to the LAPD.

On Sunday, officials announced that a police officer at Los Angeles International Airport tested positive. County health officials were working to identify any other officers or employees who may have had prolonged or close contact with the officer.

Two contract workers testing arriving passengers for signs of coronavirus at LAX had previously been confirmed as testing positive for the illness.

Trainers set up at the Dockweiler beach parking lot for quarantine | Photo taken by Karen Foshay
Trainers set up at the Dockweiler beach parking lot for quarantine | Photo taken by Karen Foshay

County officials, meanwhile, are planning to use Dockweiler RV Park, an area on the beach just south of LAX, as a coronavirus isolation zone for people who are ordered to quarantine or isolate but are not sick enough to be hospitalized, especially those who are homeless or visiting the area with nowhere else to stay.

The area is under the jurisdiction of Los Angeles County, but on Sunday the nearby city of El Segundo warned the public not to go north of 12505 Vista Del Mar, where the Youth Center and Beach Cafe are located.

About 25 RVs have been set up, with 25 more being delivered each day and a plan to have all in place by Thursday, according to a bulletin sent to El Segundo city staff.

Ferrer said last week county officials were exploring a variety of locations for use as such isolation areas.

Dr. Christina Ghaly, who runs the county hospital system, asked residents to preserve emergency room capacity at all area hospitals for those in need.

"Seek care responsibly in order to not overwhelm the healthcare system," Ghaly said.

Like many of the roughly 100 hospitals across Los Angeles County, county hospitals will be canceling elective surgeries to increase capacity. The county is also increasing access to tele-medicine services.

Los Angeles County also closed all of its buildings, including libraries and museums because of the coronavirus, Board of Supervisors Chair Kathryn Barger said. County hospitals and clinics will remain open. It's not yet known how long the closures will remain in effect.

Barger asked everyone to check on older members of their community -- while keeping a safe distance -- to see if they need help accessing food or other essentials.

"Please check on your neighbors and see if they need any help," Barger said.

The Superior Court of Los Angeles County also began scaling back its operations with a view toward establishing social distancing in all of its 38 courthouses to avoid the spread of the corona virus.

As part of the new measures, no new jurors will be summoned for any civil or criminal jury trials for the next 30 days, and the trial judge for any jury trial in session may exercise his or her discretion to either continue the trial or declare a mistrial.

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