Los Angeles County officials tell Capital & Main that the Board of Supervisors will meet in closed session tomorrow, Jan. 15, to consider tightening COVID-19 restrictions on shopping malls and other nonessential retailers in an effort to slow the spread of the deadly respiratory illness overwhelming area hospitals.
The county sources, who requested anonymity because they are not authorized to speak on the matter, say that any decision to shut down the malls and businesses would take several days to implement.
Behind the scenes, these sources say, board members are trying to thread the needle with top health officials between reducing the opportunity for spread of the infection and trying not to do further damage to the economy by shutting businesses entirely.
The L.A. County Department of Public Health did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
At a grim virtual press conference Wednesday, county public health director Barbara Ferrer told reporters that COVID-19 outbreaks at Los Angeles’ “general worksites” have increased nearly fivefold in just over a month’s time — from nine per week to 44 per week. Some 1,744 worksites have ongoing outbreak investigations, she said.
L.A. hospitals are struggling to get the surge under control. Exhausted health care workers are underwater with infections triggered by Angelenos’ ill-advised winter holiday gatherings, while a new and more contagious variant of the virus stalks the Southland.
“The work ahead requires us to take every action necessary to reduce transmission,” Ferrer said. “Every time transmission is averted, we knock down part of the curve, part of the surge, and we potentially save a life.”
County officials have previously said that infections at worksites, including retail stores, reflect the extent of community spread but do not necessarily indicate the source. The county’s chief medical officer, Dr. Jeffrey Gunzenhauser, told the Los Angeles Times in December that among people who contracted COVID-19 and were employed, 8% worked in retail. The information was based on data obtained in contract tracing interviews.
In the final shopping days before Christmas, when TV news reports broadcast traffic jams of holiday shoppers in malls from Northridge to Commerce, Ferrer ruled out further store closures, pointing out that retail was already “much reduced” to 20% capacity.
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