LA County Walks Back ‘Home til August’ With Easing of Restrictions

Some manufacturing, car dealerships and some retail establishments saw partial reopens Wednesday, as did beaches — but only for recreation.

Screenshot of Los Angeles County Public Health director Barbara Ferrer during her daily coronavirus press briefing.

LOS ANGELES (CN) — Los Angeles County officials on Wednesday walked back a comment by their public health director who said Angelenos would likely see another three months at home to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Public health officials now say the next phase of the health order will see more businesses reopen but also has no end date.

The comments made by LA County Public Health director Barbara Ferrer at a county Board of Supervisors public meeting on Tuesday caused confusion and panic for the 10.4 million county residents who were unclear on whether she had just issued a three-month extension to the stay-at-home health order.

By Tuesday evening during his daily Covid-19 update, LA City Mayor Eric Garcetti said the orders in the city and county would be gradually relaxed in the coming months.

“While the city’s Safer at Home order will remain in place beyond May 15, we will also continue to adjust the order gradually — to safely allow more activities, more businesses to operate, and more Angelenos to get back to work,” Garcetti said.

On Wednesday, Ferrer apologized “for the confusion I inadvertently created yesterday when I indicated that we would need to continue with the health officer orders through the next few months.”

She added, “I had no intention of messaging that we weren’t changing our order to reflect our recovery journey.”

The return of crowded public spaces, office buildings and other signs of the pre-coronavirus world will be piecemeal, unlike the abrupt stop Covid-19 brought to LA County in March when the health order was first put into effect.

The health order was relaxed last week when hiking trails, golf courses and some retail businesses were allowed to reopen.

On Wednesday, the order was relaxed again to allow for select manufacturing operations, car dealerships and some retail businesses to reopen for curbside pickup. Indoor malls remain closed. 

The county’s famous beaches also reopened Wednesday, but for recreation only — sunbathing and gathering remains forbidden.

Even as Ferrer announced the next phase in the health order, the county public health data also pointed to an alarming trend.

“In one month, we’ve experienced 1,300 additional deaths,” said Ferrer. “On April 13, we reported 363 people had passed away.”

The county’s death toll stands at 1,659, while 34,428 Angelenos have been infected with the virus.

Ferrer has become the face of the daily update for LA County since the novel coronavirus changed the fabric of everyday life. She has relayed the daily death toll, infection rates and even acknowledged during the televised updates the county could have done better in its response to the virus. She also informs viewers when new research confirmed previous theories.

The recovery process will be slow and measured, following a roadmap by the public health agency that details a five-stage process for relaxing the stay-at-home order.

This next phase of the order has no end date said Ferrer, but noted that social distancing, face masks and other signs of infection control will be “our new foreseeable normal” because the virus is still highly contagious.

The pandemic and its forced closures have wreaked havoc on the county’s budget. Facing a $1.2 billion budget deficit for the upcoming fiscal year, the Board of Supervisors said Wednesday the county will continue providing a safety net to residents while avoiding harmful program and staffing cuts. 

Supervisor Janice Hahn said at a budget hearing the county should not look to cutting staff. 

“I want to avoid layoffs and furloughs as much as possible,” said Hahn. “Our people, our staff, are our workforce and they’re definitely the greatest asset we have in the county. But we have an uphill battle.”

Supervisor Sheila Kuehl said despite the county’s “terrifying new budget reality” officials should continue programs that make housing more affordable and provide alternatives to incarceration in county jails.

“Even though the outlook is really bleak, we have to balance a greatly diminished budget,” Kuehl said.

The board will discuss the proposed $35.5 billion budget at a May 26 hearing before adopting a final budget in June.

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