On a day the county reported more than 70 coronavirus deaths, Los Angeles County officials announced Tuesday a goal of achieving a “safe reopening” of the local economy as early as July 4.
The date emerged during the second meeting of the county’s Economic Resiliency Task Force, a collection of elected officials and business leaders assembled to recommend steps for creating jobs and returning the county to full employment.
“I understand the urgency to reopen and know 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,” county Supervisor Kathryn Barger said in a statement following the meeting. “I remain focused on working with industry leaders and health officials to safely make way for Los Angeles County to reopen by the Fourth of July.”
Supervisor Sheila Kuehl noted the critical importance of public cooperation as we move closer to re-opening. “Our ability to re-open depends on a very high level of cooperation from the public. 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, and our ability to meet our goal of reopening as fully as possible as quickly as possible is dependent on each and every resident of this county doing their part to protect their own health, the health of their family and their community,” Kuehl said.
At the county’s daily coronavirus briefing, Supervisor Hilda Solis and public health director Barbara Ferrer tried to stress that the July 4 date is just a goal, but the mission is to reopen the economy sooner than later, recognizing that residents are growing weary of continued stay-at-home restrictions. But unless people stick to the restrictions, reopening the county will take longer, they said.
“That (July) is a goal, but we have to get there, and we have to do it by measurement, we have to do it by scientific evidence and data and making sure everybody is adhering to the public health order,” Solis said. “And I can tell you as one supervisor, I have a great deal of concern that some people are not listening to that message.”
Ferrer acknowledged the frustration as the slow pace of businesses reopening.
“Everyone is fatigued, and I think we all feel like enough is enough,” she said. “I wish the virus said enough is enough, also. I wish it would just go away, and I know you all agree with me. We wish this wasn’t going on so long and why is reopening so hard. And I think we all really felt like once we started to reopen, everything was going to be good and we were just going to be able to move on pretty quickly. And I think the reality is … we are gonna really aim together to get there as quickly as possible. But we’re going to pay attention to the data and we’re going to pay attention to the science. I think it is correct to note it’s going to take all of us together to be able to do this quicker rather than slower.”
The continuing danger of the virus was driven home when the county announced another 76 deaths due to the coronavirus. Although three of those deaths had actually been announced Monday by health officials in Long Beach and Pasadena, the figure was still one of the highest daily increases in deaths announced during the pandemic.
The deaths lifted the county’s overall total to 1,913.
The county also announced another 1,183 new coronavirus cases, giving the county an overall total of 39,573.
Ferrer noted that Tuesday and Wednesday figures are often inflated because they include backlogged results from the weekend.
Gov. Gavin Newsom on Monday announced relaxed standards that individual counties need to meet to reopen more sectors of the local economy, but given the relatively high local number of cases and deaths — representing about half of the statewide total — Los Angeles County is far short of meeting any of them.
Ferrer said it’s helpful for the county to set a July 4 target date for reopening the bulk of the local economy, but again stressed the need for residents to continue working to slow the spread of COVID-19.
“That’s certainly a goal we can reach, but we all are going to need to do our part,” she said.
That message will likely be amplified as the week goes on, given the approaching Memorial Day weekend and inevitable desire for residents to flock to beaches or hold parties.
“Please, it’s not time for parties, it’s not time for crowds,” Ferrer said. “… There are outbreaks associated with those parties, and they’re pretty easy to track. … (A) party is an extraordinarily bad idea. And we would ask everyone to hold off on any kind of parties or large gatherings. That just doesn’t make sense.”
Ferrer said the county will release as soon as Wednesday results of the latest round of serology — or antibody — testing, which is done to estimate the actual spread of the virus in the county. Results from the first round of testing conducted by the county and USC were initially released in April, and were formalized Monday in the Journal of the American Medical Association, showing that roughly 4.65% of residents had antibodies — meaning they were infected with the virus at some point in time.
With an population of about 10 million, that percentage equates to about 465,000 people in the county being infected, a number vastly greater than the roughly 39,000 cases that have actually been confirmed. By factoring in a margin of error in testing, the study found that the actual infection rate could range from 2.5% to as high as 7% of the population.
“The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases is a poor proxy for the extent of infection in the community,” lead investigator Neeraj Sood, a USC professor of public policy at the USC Price School for Public Policy, said in a statement. “We need to update models and forecasts based on new evidence. We’re still far away from herd immunity or the end of the epidemic. We need to look at a longer time horizon when evaluating policy decisions.”