LA County may extend stay-at-home orders to August even as rural counties start reopening

Los Angeles County residents will likely find themselves under some type of stay-at-home restrictions at least until August, barring a major change in the fight against the coronavirus, the county’s public health director said today.

Speaking to the Board of Supervisors during a debate on extending an eviction moratorium, Barbara Ferrer, director of the Department of Public Health, said restrictions will most likely be extended for the next three months unless there is a “dramatic change in this virus or in the tools available” to fight COVID-19.

The countywide public health order mandating business closures and calling on residents to remain at home as much as possible, practice social distancing and wear face coverings when interacting with others is set to expire Friday. But Ferrer said Monday that an updated health order will be announced during the county’s normal coronavirus briefing on Wednesday. Exactly what that order will say was not revealed.

Later in the day, Ferrer clarified that the county is still planning to gradually relax the order where appropriate.

“We’re counting on the public’s continued compliance with the orders to enable us to relax restrictions, and we are committed to making sure that L.A. County is in the best position to provide its 10 million residents with the highest level of wellness possible as we progressively get back to normal,” she said in a statement.

Long Beach is not governed by the county’s health order because it has its own health department, but the city has often moved in lockstep with its regional partners. Its current health order hews very closely to LA County’s rules.

Ferrer’s prediction came even as state officials moved to ease restrictions for some counties that haven’t been as hard-hit by the virus.

If counties meet certain benchmarks, California is allowing them to ease health orders faster than in other areas. For instance, state health officials have already approved plans by Butte and El Dorado counties that could let them reopen some dine-in restaurants, offices and other locations with social distancing modifications.

Locally, health officials have said some of the requirements for those sped-up reopenings—such as reducing COVID-19 deaths to near zero—may be impossible to meet in more urban areas like Long Beach and LA County.

In a press briefing Tuesday, Gov. Gavin Newsom drove home that point, saying LA County officials should feel “no pressure” to try to open more quickly.

“Their conditions are very very different than the conditions in some of these rural counties,” he said.

Ferrer and other county health officials have been frank in recent weeks that social distancing and face coverings will be the “new normal,” likely for months to come, as efforts continue to slow the spread of the virus.

The total number of deaths and infections have also continued to rise. On Tuesday, there were 951 new cases and 45 deaths reported by LA County health officials, bringing the total to 33,180 and 1,613 respectively. In Long Beach, there have been 48 coronavirus-related deaths and almost 1,000 confirmed cases.

Nevertheless, the county and Long Beach last week began taking small steps to loosen their stay-at-home restrictions, allowing hiking trails and golf courses to reopen. Some retail businesses—toy stores, sporting goods stores, clothing stores, music shops and florists—were also allowed to reopen with curbside pickup only. Car dealers were also permitted to reopen, as long as they adhere to sanitation and social distancing mandates.

Long Beach is also expected to announce new rules for its beaches today.

Ferrer indicated during Tuesday’s board meeting that more openings could be done on a much slower basis. Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia said much of the same thing Monday, saying health officials need to take a step back and reevaluate data for a span of about two weeks before knowing whether the reopenings caused hospitalizations and cases to spike.

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