LA County Plans Friday Reopening of Some Shops Shuttered by Pandemic

Florists, auto dealerships, sporting goods and toy stores will be allowed to reopen in Los Angeles County, with curbside pickup required for all.

People relax on the sand at Hueneme Beach at Port Hueneme, Calif., on April 19, after it reopened with restrictions due to the coronavirus pandemic. (AP Photo/John Antczak)

LOS ANGELES (CN) — Select businesses and retail shops in Los Angeles County will reopen Friday, 50 days after public health officials instituted a stay-at-home order to slow the spread of Covid-19.

On Wednesday, health officials announced some semblance of normalcy would return to LA County as the health order is relaxed, but in-store shopping will not come back just yet.

Florists, car dealers, sporting goods stores and toy stores will reopen, with curbside pickup will be in place for stores according to public health officials.

The announcement that the 10.4 million LA County residents will enter a new stage of the novel coronavirus was made as health officials announced 55 new deaths and 851 new infections since Tuesday.

Wednesday’s figures bring the county’s death toll to 1,367, and 28,644 residents have been infected. Half of the county’s deaths — 682 — have been people who lived in communal settings. Most were residents of nursing homes according to LA County Public Health director Barbara Ferrer.

LA County’s rollout to reopening its economy will include ensuring medical supply, hospital bed and ventilator capacity in the event of a new outbreak and spike in infections, said Ferrer.

Physical distancing, face masks and other infection control measures will still be in place for many businesses.

“Deaths are a devastating and unacceptable reality of this virus,” said Ferrer. “We would like as we move forward not see an increase in the death rate.”

Nursing homes and assisted living facilities saw Covid-19 spread rapidly and health care workers in those residential settings will need to be tested regularly. Officials anticipate they will be able to provide 60,000 tests per week for its nursing facilities.

Public health officials say if they expect to see 2,000 infections, they will need to conduct contact tracing of some 8,000 close contacts to determine the spread of the virus.

“We need to be each other’s helpers” as business reopen and people practice social distancing, said Ferrer.

While rural parts of the state like Yuba and Sutter counties saw few to no Covid-19 infections and reopened before state officials gave the go-ahead to relax the stay-at-home orders, LA County’s rollout will need to be different.

“What’s best for other counties may not be the best for Los Angeles County,” said LA County Supervisor Kathryn Barger. “LA County cannot be more lenient on what stores can be reopened than what the state dictates.”

LA County projects revenue losses could reach $2 billion by next year and officials will propose pay cuts in the coming weeks for agency and county departments.

California Governor Gavin Newsom said Wednesday there will be extended economic doldrums for the state and the nation after the acute crisis created by the pandemic passes.

“It’s going to take a lot longer than people think,” Newsom said when asked about the recovery timeline during his daily press briefing. “These are Depression-era numbers we are seeing.”

In January, the governor touted the state’s record levels of low unemployment and billions of dollars in reserves. That’s all gone now, he said.

“Our budget is tens of billions of dollars short of where it needs to be,” Newsom said.

Newsom is set to unveil the budget on May 14 and it will be severely dented by the record unemployment claims that abound statewide as the Covid-19 has shuttered a huge portion of the state, national and world economy.

“We have distributed $2 billion since Sunday to unemployment insurance accounts,” Newsom said during the presser. “The economic challenges are quite extraordinary.”

With this in mind, Newsom announced a program that extends workers’ compensation to more frontline workers, including firefighters, paramedics and other workers in the health care industry, saying they have been left out of federal and previous state paid leave programs. 

The governor said offering people incentives to stay home from work when sick is a critical component of the state’s response to the persistent public health crisis. 

“As we enter the second phase, our focus needs to be keeping workers healthy and safe,” he said. “What you don’t want is a worker who tests positive but keeps quiet about it because they don’t want to lose work.”

If a worker has tested positive or been diagnosed with Covid-19, they are eligible for the workers’ compensation benefits, Newsom said, though eligible individuals would first have to exhaust all state and federal benefits. 

The governor also talked contracts for personal protective equipment amid increasing scrutiny for concealing the particulars of purchase agreements in recent weeks. 

Newsom said he has asked his staff to expedite the release of certain redacted contracts in the coming days after he spent the previous weeks stonewalling public records requests out of fear that disclosure of contract details could scuttle any potential deals. 

“There are thousands of lives on the line,” Newsom said. 

Hours after his daily briefing, Newsom backed up his promise and released a copy of the massive deal he made with China-based BYD Auto. According to Newsom, BYD will be refunding the state $247 million-half of its original payment – because the process of getting the N95 masks certified by federal regulators has stalled.

Nonetheless, Newsom’s administration claims the deal has been a success as California has received millions of surgical masks ahead of schedule and at a “competitive price point.”

“Since the beginning of this pandemic, our goal as an administration has been to get the protective equipment and supplies needed to protect front line workers while also protecting taxpayers from fraud, negligence and price gouging in a marketplace where they are all too commonplace,” said Brian Ferguson of the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services in an email.

”This contract was strategically developed in a manner that protects California and its taxpayers and ensures for the purchase of quality products that meet industry standards.”

The governor said the state was able to procure about 15 million masks for health care industry workers, which have been since distributed. In addition, the state government has already purchased around 20 million more masks, but those have yet to be distributed as federal officials must verify the equipment conforms to safety standards.  

With frenzied demand for masks, gowns and ventilators, concern has grown about unscrupulous manufacturers delivering substandard equipment to increasingly desperate buyers. 

Newsom called for increased monitoring from the U.S. Department of Justice and the FBI to ensure PPE vendors are on the level. 

The governor did not reveal the particulars regarding the second phase of the response to the Covid-19 pandemic, but he said he planned to do so on Thursday. 

Hospitalizations and ICU admittance fell in the last 24 hours, although deaths in California due to Covid-19 was in the higher part of the range while new infections were stable. 

Newsom has repeatedly said the state must meet six metrics before it can begin to pull back some of the restrictions that have characterized the first phase of the state’s response. 

Part of the effort to ease restrictions will necessitate the hiring and deployment of contact tracers who can help identify who might have been exposed to individuals who recently tested positive for the disease. 

Newsom said the state has hired approximately 10,000 people to conduct investigations with an eye toward a full roster of 20,000 such tracers by June. 

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