Raging pandemic prompts LA County stay-home order

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LOS ANGELES (AP) – The raging coronavirus pandemic has prompted Los Angeles County to impose a lockdown to prevent the caseload from spiraling into a hospital crisis but the order stops short of a full business shutdown that could cripple the holiday sale season.

The “safer at home” public health order announced Friday calls for 10 million residents to stay home “as much as possible” and bars them from gathering with people outside of their household for public or private occasions.

The border exempts church services and protests, which the Department of Public Health said are constitutionally protected.

Schools that currently are holding in-person classes also mainly will be allowed to remain open, as will beaches, parks and trails.

The order takes effect Monday and will last until at least Dec. 20. It is less strict than a statewide lockdown issued in March by Gov. Gavin Newsom but it is still a ratcheting up of measures that aim to slow the exploding number of people who have become infected with COVID-19 and those winding up in hospitals.

“It takes drastic measures to slow down the spread of this tremendously deadly virus,” county Supervisor Hilda L. Solis said in a statement. “I will not sugarcoat what we are asking people: we are asking you to stop seeing your loved ones, to modify your business operations, to make sacrifices, and to trust that we must work together to once again be healthy together.”

“We must keep ourselves and our families safe so that we can avoid getting sick and adding even more burden to our already overwhelmed healthcare system,” Solis said.

The county on Friday reported 24 additional deaths and 4,544 new COVID-19 cases with a five-day daily average of 4,751 cases. There were nearly 2,000 people hospitalized for virus-related problems, nearly a quarter of them in intensive care.

Just a month ago, fewer than 800 people were hospitalized.

Businesses already are operating under a recently-imposed nighttime curfew that covers much of the state, as are restaurants, which were recently barred from offering in-person dining.

Public health officials have been urging people for weeks to avoid visiting family during the holiday season as COVID-19 cases spiral out of control in counties that include most of California’s population.

Authorities began to see caseloads spiking this fall and blamed it, in part, on people ignoring mask and distance precautions when gathering, especially to celebrate holidays or special events such as the World Series victory by the Dodgers and NBA championship win by the Lakers.

The state’s top public health official has referred to “COVID fatigue” by people who are becoming lax about safety precautions after having been hit with sometimes confusing state and local public health orders as the pandemic waxed and waned.

“We know we are asking a lot from so many who have been sacrificing for months on end,” county Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said Friday. “Acting with collective urgency right now is essential if we want to put a stop to this surge.”

Meanwhile, public health officials are bracing for a wave of cases in the next two or three weeks that could follow gatherings at Thanksgiving. Officials have estimated that 1 in 145 Los Angeles County residents is infected with COVID-19. About 12% of those infected could wind up in hospitals, authorities say.

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