One day after Los Angeles County officials issued a stronger stay-at-home order that prohibits all public and private gatherings, the public was being urged to follow social distancing guidelines when enjoying the outdoors, as large crowds were seen at Southland beaches and hiking trails during California's first weekend under the governor's shutdown order to slow the spread of COVID-19.
"In tough times, I know many Angelenos want to do what we always do -- find peace & comfort in the natural beauty of our city. But please remember: outdoor activity is only allowed when practicing physical distancing. Crowding hiking trails or beaches will further spread COVID-19," Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti tweeted Sunday.
"Seriously people, you need to practice social distancing. I am seeing tons of people out there acting like there's no crisis. You could be carrying the virus, have no symptoms, and be responsible for the illness or worse of others," Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia tweeted.
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Malibu tweeted Sunday: "The City of #Malibu is receiving reports of people enjoying the outdoors in Malibu. The County order requires that social distancing (6 feet between people) be practiced while outdoors."
The county's public health department issued a revised "Safer At Home" order Saturday, which officials said was a step below a lockdown or shelter-in-place requirement. The previous order prohibited gatherings of 10 or more people, but the revised wording simply prohibits "all indoor and outdoor public and private gatherings and events."
People who go out for shopping or essential jobs are required to remain at least six feet away from anyone else.
Residents are still free to go outside for walks, hikes or bike rides, but not in large groups.
Saturday's enhanced order also clarified that golf courses and personal grooming services -- including hair and nail salons -- are nonessential services and are closed. (The order can be found online at http://publichealth.lacounty.gov/media/Coronavirus/.)
It requires "all indoor malls and shopping centers, all swap meets and flea markets, all indoor and outdoor playgrounds and all non-essential businesses to close."
Businesses considered essential and permitted to remain open include hardware stores, repair shops, media outlets, banks, laundromats, dry-cleaners and pet supply stores.
Officials said the order was amended to more closely mirror Gov. Gavin Newsom's latest state order. It covers all cities in Los Angeles County, although officials in Pasadena and Long Beach -- which have their own health departments -- issued similar mandates of their own.
Four deaths and 351 cases of the virus have been confirmed in Los Angeles County, with updated numbers expected sometime Sunday evening.
The two latest fatal victims were over the age of 65 and had underlying health conditions, according to the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health. One resided in Del Rey, the other in Miracle Mile, the department reported.
As of Saturday night, 69 positive cases have been hospitalized.
"The risk is spread across everybody who lives here in Los Angeles County," said Dr. Barbara Ferrer, head of county health. "Younger people, while they may have a better outcome (from an infection) ... are in fact one of the largest groups of people that we have tested who are positive for COVID-19."
Health officials have stressed since the outbreak began that while older people, those with underlying health conditions and pregnant women can suffer more severe consequences from contracting coronavirus, the threat of being diagnosed with the illness is spread across all age groups. And while younger patients may suffer lesser symptoms, they can still spread the illness to people who may become more severely ill.
Statewide, the number of cases topped 1,400 by Sunday, with the California Department of Public Health citing 27 deaths. Gov. Gavin Newsom warned Thursday that the number of California cases is likely to skyrocket in the coming weeks, with the state projecting the possibility of 25.5 million cases -- roughly 56% of the population -- within two months.
Los Angeles County on Thursday reported what at the time was its second death from the virus. County officials did not name the patient, but his relatives identified him as 34-year old Jeffrey Ghazarian of Glendora. His family said he became sick during a trip to Orlando, Florida, where he went on a business trip but then extended his stay to visit Disney World and Universal Studios.
The man died Thursday at a hospital in Pasadena after spending a week on a ventilator. The Los Angeles Times quoted medical and government sources as
saying he had underlying medical conditions, including asthma and bronchitis.
Ghazarian's family posted on his Facebook page, "Our sweet, loving, fun Jeffrey went to be with Jesus this morning. He suffered a lot and put up a good fight. We will miss our Jeff every day but we are thankful for all the fun happy memories of the times we had together."
According to Facebook posts by the family, Ghazarian tested positive for coronavirus on March 13 and was admitted to a hospital the next day.
County officials have been working to establish quarantine/isolation areas for people who either have the virus, have been exposed to it or are showing symptoms. One location has already been established at Dockweiler State Beach, where RVs have been parked to provide isolation space.
County Supervisor Hilda Solis announced Friday that the Sheraton Fairplex hotel in Pomona will become a quarantine/isolation facility beginning Monday. She said the county has negotiated a lease for the hotel's 244 rooms that will continue through May 31, with an option to extend through June.
The rooms will be provided on a first-come, first-served basis, with one person housed per room. Solis said people in the hotel will receive services such as food, medical care and laundry.
The Pomona Fairplex is also opening a child-care center for the children of first-responders, and a drive-through food pantry will begin operating at the facility on April 1.
And the shuttered St. Vincent Medical Center in the Westlake district will also be used for patients with the virus.
Ferrer stressed on Thursday that the county is going to see continued increases in cases over the next four to 12 weeks.
"But that doesn't mean that the important actions that you're all taking to combat this virus are not working," she said. "Social distancing is critical and we implore you to take seriously everyone's obligation to limit their exposures to others and to limit others from being exposed to you. This is the one way that we can all be serious about what it mean to try to slow down the increasing number of cases here in the county."
Ferrer also issued an ominous warning, saying, "As a general rule of thumb, you should assume that you may be infected and that others around you may be infected."
"Therefore, act accordingly," she said. "Take every precaution possible to avoid infecting others and to avoid becoming infected. That's the goal of social distancing."
She noted the number of cases will continue to rise in part because of the increased availability of testing, with seven labs operating with multiple sites. But she stressed that while lab availability is increasing, it remains limited.
According to Ferrer, about 21% of people tested at the county lab wind up being positive for coronavirus, while the rate in commercial labs is running about 10%.
Ferrer said anyone who is feeling "stressed and overwhelmed" can call a 24-hour support hotline operated by the county Department of Mental Health at 800-854-7771.