LA Moves to Prosecute Businesses That Refuse to Close as Cases Spike

Cots are set up at a possible COVID-19 treatment site Wednesday, April 1, 2020, in San Mateo, Calif. (AP Photo/Ben Margot, Pool)

LOS ANGELES (CN) – A smoke shop and other businesses that refuse to close their doors in Los Angeles amid the Covid-19 health emergency could face legal action even as hospitals across the country brace for a surge of infected patients in the coming weeks.

The LA City Attorney’s office said it will review recommendations from Mayor Eric Garcetti to take legal action against nonessential businesses that refuse to shut their doors during the Covid-19 outbreak. The office did not respond to an email requesting more information about what type of businesses were referred by Garcetti’s office.

“We want to let people know that we are serious about this, that businesses that flagrantly violate this will be shut down short term and prosecuted,” Garcetti on Thursday at a daily briefing.

On Friday, LA County health officials said 4,566 people are infected with the coronavirus. The death toll stands at 89, with 11 deaths announced Friday.

LA County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said the spike in infections was expected as more testing became widely available across the county. LA County, like the rest of the nation, will see a surge of infected patients flooding hospital beds in the coming weeks according to health projections.

Approximately 26,000 people in LA County have been tested as of April 2 and officials aim to conduct 10,000 tests per day. Currently around 10% of tests come back positive said Ferrer.

“The next few weeks are going to be critically important,” said Ferrer. “We’re going to see more cases of people who are positive of Covid-19.”

Health officials and social workers are meeting with homeless people across LA County to try and move them into shelter space and hotel rooms so they can self-isolate or quarantine amid the outbreak, said LA County Supervisor Kathryn Barger. There are approximately 52,700 people who are homeless in LA County and 31,000 in the city of LA.

Prior to the pandemic, reducing the state’s burgeoning homelessness population was slated to dominate Gov. Gavin Newsom’s 2020 political agenda. The former mayor of San Francisco called the crisis a “disgrace” while dedicating his 43-minute State of State address in January to housing and homelessness.

Delivering his daily briefing Friday in Sacramento, Newsom outlined efforts to get residents off the streets and prevent the virus from spreading among the state’s estimated 151,000 homeless. He said California has secured nearly 7,000 hotel rooms to temporarily shelter vulnerable Californians, and that the federal government has committed to reimburse up to 75% of the program’s cost.

“This was the crisis that predates the current crisis,” Newsom said Friday.

Newsom says the plan, coined Project Roomkey, has already housed 860 people with a target to make 15,000 rooms available to homeless people who have tested positive or were exposed to the virus, as well as those over the age of 65. Hotels will provide meals and laundry service and be staffed with the necessary custodians, security guards and other workers.

“What we want to do is relieve the stress in our shelter system so we can separate individuals and ultimately relieve the impact on our medical care delivery system,” Newsom said during a press conference staged at a newly converted motel.

The pandemic has also brought rulemaking to a screeching halt in the nation’s largest state and its $3 trillion economy.

After approving Newsom’s request for a $1 billion pandemic relief fund, the Legislature has been on recess since mid-March. The extended break has thrown a wrench in budget negotiations and critical committee policy and oversight hearings have been deferred.

While legislative leaders hoped to reconvene on April 13, they said Friday afternoon the eerie shuttering of the Capitol will continue until at least May 4.

“Our priority continues to be bending the curve of infection,” said Senate President Toni Atkins and Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon in a joint statement. “We must continue to support the efforts of our first responders and health care personnel.”

As of Friday afternoon, California reported 10,701 confirmed Covid-19 cases, 2,188 hospitalizations, 901 ICU patients and 237 deaths. Local officials have also confirmed 156 positive cases among health care workers.

Along with the statewide daily Covid-19 roundup, health officials have started providing more detailed information about the severity of hospitalizations and where they are occurring. A new website updates with county-level statistics, including each jurisdiction’s hospitalizations, intensive care unit patients and the numbers of patients hospitalized suspected to have the virus.

A particularly alarming hotspot has emerged in Sacramento County, where officials have traced over 70 cases – 18% of the county’s total – to a single church. Countywide, nearly one-third of confirmed cases are tied to church-related gatherings and health officials are urging people from all faiths to stay home this weekend.

In Riverside County, the sheriff’s department announced the death of a second deputy due to complications from Covid-19. Deputy David Werksman, a 22-year police veteran, died due to complications from Covid-19. He is survived by his wife and three children.

Riverside County jails reported 25 employees and 11 inmates have tested positive for the novel coronavirus, according to Sheriff Chad Bianco. An additional 51 tests for inmates are pending and another employee is in critical condition.

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