LA County Task Force Pushes to Reopen Economy by Fourth of July

Supervisor Hahn: We need to ‘get to the point that we learn to live with the virus. We cannot stay locked down forever.’

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Los Angeles County officials announced this week they are developing “fast-track plans” to reopen the economy by July 4.

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Currently, the county is in the second of the five-stage “Roadmap to Recovery,” and the Economic Resiliency Task Force announced the target date at its second meeting, two months after shelter-in-place orders were instituted. The task force said working groups from bioscience, hospitality, education, sports, entertainment and the arts are creating proposals to resume operations.

The L.A. Economic Development Corporation (LAEDC) presented a report that stressed the “high stakes and urgency” of the economic situation as the coronavirus continues to spread. Bill Allen, president of the LAEDC, said there have been more than 1 million unemployment claims filed in L.A. County to date, and that more than 75 percent of job losses are in positions earning $50,000 per year or less, with restaurants and retail industries being hit the hardest.

Jerry Greenberg, representing the restaurants, leisure and hospitality sector, reported that 80 percent of restaurant jobs in L.A. County have been lost. Donna Langley, the film and entertainment representative, said the industry’s 890,000 employees were for the most part not working. Several members pushed for new public-private partnerships and revenue streams to create jobs, and noted critical needs, such as customized guidance and health and safety protocols.

County Supervisor Janice Hahn said it’s essential to get small businesses up and running. She hopes the Department of Public Health will agree with the task force’s plans to reopen and present it to the state.

“The longer we stay closed in certain sectors, particularly small businesses and restaurants, the odds are that they will not be able to come back,” Hahn said. “I feel that we have to get to the point that we learn to live with the virus. We cannot stay locked down forever.”

Supervisor Kathryn Barger, the task force chair, also said a safe reopening is needed as soon as possible.

“Many of the experts the county has assembled for this task force have been working hard to develop safe and efficient plans to revitalize their sectors as early as next month,” Barger said in a statement. 

L.A. County has confirmed 39,573 cases of coronavirus — nearly half the total for all of California — and more than 1,900 deaths. As of Tuesday, approximately 359,000 people in L.A. County have been tested for coronavirus, and 9 percent tested positive — which is referred to as a “positivity rate.” There are 1,549 people who are currently hospitalized, and 27 percent of these people are in the ICU and 19 percent are on ventilators.

Earlier this week, Governor Gavin Newsom said officials are focused more on the positivity rate rather than the number of positive tests, and they want to see the rate below 8 percent to move forward to the next steps in reopening the economy.

L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti announced on Tuesday that all pet grooming and training retail businesses and mobile services are allowed to operate where customers can drop off and pick up their pets outside the store. Also, all car washes can resume operations so long as they adopt the county’s retail protocols.

As most companies reopen, they will all require restrictions. The county revised its Safer at Home order on May 13 to allow for retailers with curbside operations, manufacturers, select recreational facilities, and beaches to reopen. But last week, Dr. Barbara Ferrer, director of Public Health, indicated some Stay-at-Home restrictions will remain in place into August. As the county advances, it will continue to require low incidence of person-to-person contact, and ensure social distancing and adherence to other protocols. 

“Although this order permits some activities and business operations to resume, physical distancing remains the best tool available for people to avoid being exposed to the virus,” the county’s updated health officer order reads. “This order’s intent is to continue to ensure that county residents remain in their residences as much as possible, to limit close contact with others […]. All persons who can telework or work from home should continue to do so as much as possible during this pandemic.”

The county revised protocols for retail establishments to open for curbside pickup this week, as well as for manufacturing and logistics establishments. The protocols stipulate several requirements including that employees who can complete work from home are directed to do so; that symptom checks are conducted before employees enter workspaces; that employees are instructed to wash their face coverings daily; and further institute social distancing guidelines. 

Health inspectors are also making their rounds to ensure businesses are in compliance. They are checking: workplace policies and practices to protect employee health; measures to ensure physical distancing; measures to ensure infection control; and more

“As we continue to reopen more places and spaces in the weeks ahead, we will need to use the tools of physical distancing and wearing cloth face coverings to continue to slow the spread,” Ferrer said Tuesday. “We don’t yet have a vaccine but we do have each other. Each of us has the power to protect another person.”

Supervisor Sheila Kuehl emphasized the importance of public cooperation in order to reopen businesses.

“If it weren’t for the public’s willingness to practice social distancing, wear face covers and take necessary precautions, we would not be in a position to begin to plan a re-opening,” she said.

The order continues to require that higher-risk businesses and activities where prolonged person-to-person contacts are likely to occur remain closed. That includes gyms, movie theaters, concert halls, stadiums, bowling alleys, hair salons, and more. 

To advance for riskier operations to open, health officers are monitoring hospitalization and death rates, and the capacity of hospitals and healthcare systems to provide care for coronavirus patients.