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Latest Study Suggests ‘Not Much’ Community Spread of COVID-19 During Past Month

May 20, 2020 by Brian Champlin
Screencap via LA County Public Health / Facebook

Preliminary data from Los Angeles County Public Health’s latest serology study suggests there was not much spread of COVID-19 in our community population since a prior study from April.

The second study tested 1,114 adults in L.A. County between May 8-12 using serology testing, which shows if an individual has developed antibodies to the virus. The study estimated 2.1% of the county’s adult population had antibody to COVID-19, which compares to a 4.1% positive rate in the previous study conducted in April.

According to Public Health Director Dr. Barbara Ferrer, the difference in those two numbers may only be a statistical variation, but it’s still an important finding. During today’s daily briefing, Dr. Ferrer pointed out that even if both tests overlap in margin of error, the fact that they’re in the same ballpark suggests there hasn’t been a massive uptick in community spread month-over-month. Dr. Ferrer attributed this to the vigilance of county residents:

“I think this is likely…because so many of us did a great job staying at home, physically distancing, and wearing our cloth face coverings.”

Beyond the point about community spread, the latest study produced a few other notable findings:

  • As in the previous survey, more men tested positive compared to women, 2.8% to 1.4%.
  • There were only slight positivity differences in terms of race and ethnicity.
  • 2.8% of people with a lower income level tested positive compared to 1% of people with a higher income level.
  • Those between 18 and 54 had higher rates of positivity compared to those 55 and older.

The latest survey broadened its sample by including a higher number of Latinx, Asian American, and African American individuals, compared to the April study. Test translations were also made available in Mandarin and Spanish during this latest round. Still, on the demographic front, there is more work yet to do.

The latest survey also did not include the highest risk groups, including those living in congregate settings (skilled nursing facilities, homeless shelters, jails, etc.) or persons experiencing homelessness. Future studies planned by Public Health will incorporate these demographics.

In addition to broadening the demographics, Dr. Neeraj Sood of USC’s Price School of Public Policy said that one of the near term goals is to increase the sample size of those tested. Secondly, future surveys may enroll cohorts, following the same individuals over time and testing repeatedly. The use of these strategies should increase the precision of the studies, and get at core issues like reinfection rate and antibody prevalence over time.

Regardless of any optimism gleaned from the latest data, it comes with a caveat.

“We’re still far away from herd immunity and we need to be conscious of that,” Dr. Sood said.

As of the today, Public Health has confirmed 40,857 cases of COVID-19 in the county and 1,970 deaths.

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COVID-19 in L.A. By the Numbers, Two Months Into Safer-At-Home

May 18, 2020 by Brian Champlin
Grand Park facing City Hall
Grand Park with City Hall in the Background on March 19, 2020. Photo by: Christina Champlin

It’s been two months since Mayor Eric Garcetti ordered the city of Los Angeles Safer at Home on March 19. On that day, there were an estimated 230 individuals in L.A. County with COVID-19. Since then, the progression of COVID-19 has crippled the city and created a wave of pain and uncertainty.

“Many people across our county are experiencing the profound sadness of losing a loved one,” Los Angeles County Public Health Director Dr. Barbara Ferrer said during the county’s daily update today. “Please know, we as a community mourn with you, and you are in our thoughts and prayers every day.”

Part of mourning is understanding, so want to take a minute to evaluate where we are 60 days into Safer at Home. To that end, below is a snapshot of L.A.’s COVID-19 crisis, by the numbers, taken from the most updated information available as of May 18, 2020.

Keep in mind that for the latest numbers, you can see Public Health’s COVID-19 Surveillance Dashboard here.

Data from Los Angeles County Public Health

[RELATED: A Timeline of COVID-19 in Los Angeles]

COVID-19 in Los Angeles as of May 18, 2020

350,000+ – The number of people tested for COVID-19 in L.A. County as of May 18. 9% tested positive.

38,451 – The number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 in L.A. County as of May 18.

12,531 – The number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 in L.A. County in individuals aged 18-40.

5,835 – The total number of COVID-19 hospitalizations in Los Angeles County as of May 18.

4,298 – The number of confirmed cases in healthcare workers and first responders. Nurses make up 46% of these cases.

1,839 – The number of COVID-19 deaths in L.A. County as of May 18.

1,570 – The number of current COVID-19 hospitalizations in Los Angeles County as of May 18. 27% of these cases have been admitted to intensive care units, 20% are on ventilators.

Data from Los Angeles County Public Health

614 – The number of confirmed cases in county jail facilities. This includes 480 inmates and 134 staff members.

295 – The number of COVID-19 cases in people experiencing homelessness.

230 – The number of cases when Safer-At-Home went into effect on March 19.

141 – The number of skilled nursing facilities where all residents and staff have been tested. To date, over 3,600 people have been tested, of which 402 (11%) tested positive. 86% of those who tested positive were asymptomatic.

92 – The percent of COVID-19 deaths from individuals with underlying health conditions.

60 – The number of days it’s been since Mayor Eric Garcetti announced the Safer-At-Home order on March 19.

12 – The percentage of deaths in L.A. County comprised of Black/African Americans. This segment makes up 8.2% of the county’s population.

Data from Los Angeles County Public Health

5 – The number of stages in Los Angeles County’s roadmap to reopening. We’re currently in Stage 2. There is no definitive timeline for when we would enter Stage 3.

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News

L.A. County Fair Canceled for First Time Since WWII

May 15, 2020 by Brian Champlin
LA County Fair
Credit: L.A. County Fair on Facebook

Yesterday afternoon, Fairplex officials announced that the 2020 L.A. County Fair has been canceled due to concerns over COVID-19. The decision comes after consulting with Los Angeles County Public Health officials and in accordance with state restrictions on large public gatherings. The Fair had been scheduled to take place from Sept. 4-27.

Like the L.A. Phil’s move to cancel the Hollywood Bowl season earlier this week, the choice to nix this year’s Fair comes at a significant economic cost. The L.A. County Fair annually serves approximately 1.1 million guests and has a county-wide economic impact of $324 million, with $58 million in the City of Pomona alone. Staffing for the Fair includes 500 full-time equivalent jobs.

However, it was ultimately the safety of guests that guided the final decision, according to Fairplex CEO Miguel Santana.

“My heart is heavy, for our guests who come out to make memories, our vendors who rely on the Fair circuit for their income, and our employees who work so hard all year long to create this special event,” Santana said in a release. “The L.A. County Fair is an iconic event that celebrates the best of Southern California. It is beloved by many. But we had to take into consideration the health and safety of everyone.”

The 2020 cancellation will be the first full season closure since the Fair shut down from 1942 to 1947 due to World War II. The Fair also closed once on Sept. 11, 2001, but reopened the following day.

While this year’s fair has been canceled, Fairplex will continue to offer community services including drive-thru pantries, coronavirus testing, and free childcare for the children of healthcare workers, first responders, and essential workers at its Child Development Center.

For guests who have already purchased season passes for this year’s Fair, there are three options for refunds. Those include future credits, a full refund, or transfer of their purchase into a donation for relief efforts. Refunds for both guests and vendors can be initiated here.

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LA Phil Cancels Hollywood Bowl Summer Season

May 13, 2020 by Brian Champlin
Hollywood Bowl Playboy Jazz Festival
Photo by Brian Champlin / We Like L.A.

Today, the Los Angeles Philharmonic Association announced they are canceling the 2020 seasons at the Hollywood Bowl and The Ford as a safety measure to protect performers, audiences, and staff from the spread of COVID-19. It will be the first time in nearly a century that there won’t be summer concerts at The Bowl.

“The cancellation of our summer programs and the resulting impact on our musicians and staff is devastating,” LA Phil Association CEO Chad Smith said via a press release. “We are all broken hearted by the effects of this crisis and share the disappointment of all those who look forward to the Bowl and Ford seasons every year.”

The news comes not only as a shocker for Angelenos hoping for a return to normalcy later in the year, but as a huge blow to the financial livelihood of the LA Phil itself. Revenues lost from a summer cancellation will result in an estimated $80 million budget shortfall. To make up the loss, 25% of LA Phil’s full-time non-union workforce, as well as the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra, will be furloughed through Sept. 30.

This comes even after the LA Phil made tough choices to reduce non-essential expenses, lay off part-time employees, reduce salaries by an aggregate 35%, and withdraw funds from its endowment. The cost cutting measures are expected to continue, at least through the end of the summer.

“This decision makes me heartsick for all the County residents who have made the Bowl and the Ford a treasured ritual of each summer, although this is the best decision to make in the face of the threat from the COVID-19 pandemic,” Los Angeles County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl said in a release. “The Board of Supervisors will continue to work closely with these great cultural institutions as we work our way through this crisis and ensure their stability for the future.” 

The LA Phil has launched a $35 million “Play Your Part” campaign that aims to sustain ongoing operations and programs, including the LA Phil’s Youth Orchestra Los Angeles program. As part of this initiative, existing Hollywood Bowl ticketholders have the option of donating the value of their tickets back to the LA Phil as part of a $1 million challenge grant from Jane and Michael Eisner. 

“The Hollywood Bowl and The Ford are much more than performance venues. They are iconic places and represent summer traditions that have played a part in defining Los Angeles itself,” Gail Samuel, President of the Hollywood Bowl and Chief Operating Officer of the LA Phil Association said. “We have every reason to look ahead with hope and confidence to next summer’s centennial celebrations at the Hollywood Bowl and The Ford.”

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L.A.’s Stay at Home Order Likely to Remain In Effect Until August

May 12, 2020 by Brian Champlin
Downtown L.A. Skyline from Ascot Hills Park
The downtown skyline from Ascot Hills Park. Photo credit: Brian Champlin / We Like L.A.

[Update, 5:25 p.m.:] Los Angeles County sent out an update this afternoon. Per Director of Public Health Dr. Barbara Ferrer: “L.A. County is continuing its progress on the road to recovery, with planned reopening of beaches for active recreation and an expansion of permitted retail activities coming tomorrow. While the Safer at Home orders will remain in place over the next few months, restrictions will be gradually relaxed under our 5-stage Roadmap to Recovery, while making sure we are keeping our communities as safe as possible during this pandemic. We are being guided by science and data that will safely move us forward along the road to recovery in a measured way—one that allows us to ensure that effective distancing and infection control measures are in place. We’re counting on the public’s continued compliance with the orders to enable us to relax restrictions, and we are committed to making sure that L.A. County is in the best position to provide its 10 million residents with the highest level of wellness possible as we progressively get back to normal.”

During today’s County Board of Supervisors meeting, Los Angeles Public Health Director Dr. Barbara Ferrer said that the county’s stay-at-home order will be extended “with all certainty” for the next three months. While Ferrer didn’t make it an official order, all signs point to the county reopening through a gradual, step-by-step process that could take us all the way through August.

“Our hope is that by using the data, we’d be able to slowly lift restrictions over the next three months,” Ferrer said, according to the L.A. Times. That timeline could only speed up with what Ferrer termed a “dramatic change to the virus and tools at hand.”

The news of a prolonged stay-at-home comes even as county beaches are set to reopen on Wednesday, albeit under physical distancing rules and only for restricted forms of active recreation. Under current Stage 2 guidelines, the county is allowing florists and other selected retailers to offer curbside pickup. Car dealerships, trails, and golf courses can also reopen, provided visitors abide by safety measures. And while restaurants still can’t open for dine-in service at this point, there was some news on that front today.

Tuesday saw the issuance of state guidelines for reopening dine-in restaurants, which could soon be part of Stage 2 for counties that self-certify that they meet specific criteria, such as posting zero COVID-19 deaths in the 14 days prior to application. It’s not clear at this time if more densely populated counties, such as Los Angeles, may be given any leeway on this specific requirement.

As of Tuesday, L.A. County Public Health had confirmed 45 new deaths and 961 new cases of COVID-19, bringing the county totals to 33,180 cases and 1,613 deaths. Per a release from Public Health, Dr. Ferrer expects some new guidance to be released in the coming days.

“Later this week, we will be issuing a new Health Officer Order that continues to lay out directives that need to be followed as we continue on our recovery journey. Our journey will be slow and we will be looking closely at key indicators to make sure we are continuing to slow the spread of COVID-19,” Dr. Ferrer said.

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L.A. County Beaches Reopen This Wednesday

May 11, 2020 by Brian Champlin
Zuma Beach
Zuma Beach in Malibu. Photo by Alex Beattie via flickr cc

Over the weekend, rumors circulated that local beaches could open back up this week. Today, officials confirmed that county beaches will be accessible starting Wednesday, May 13 as part of the continued Stage 2 reopening of Los Angeles. However, just because the public will regain access to these spaces doesn’t mean you can do everything you’re used to.

Los Angeles County Supervisor Janice Hahn shared an infographic on Twitter that detailed temporary do’s and don’ts at county beaches. Per that graphic, beachgoers are limited to individual or family exercises and ocean activities, which would include walking, running, surfing, and swimming. Biking and volleyball are out, as is any form of picnicking or sunbathing.

Although beaches will open, all parking lots, bike paths, piers, and boardwalks remain closed. Additionally, physical distancing requirements remain in effect and everyone outside of the water and around others will have to wear facial coverings.

There has been some confusion about when you do and don’t have to wear a mask while outside. The Department of Beaches and Harbors clarified in a Facebook post that while rules vary based on jurisdiction, “the stricter health/safety guideline prevails.” For the beaches specifically, you must wear masks on land and around other people, including while running or walking.

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Culture

We Talk SGV Restaurants Coping With the Pandemic

May 8, 2020 by Brian Champlin
alhambra street sign
The Alhambra Sign / Photo by: Brian Champlin

In the latest episode of We Talk L.A., Kristie Hang joins us for a chat about what’s happened in the San Gabriel Valley restaurant scene over the past several months.

Our discussion begins with an introduction into why food culture is so important to the SGV, then dovetails into how mom and pop restaurants are surviving during this uncertain time, why some immigrants are distrustful of government aid programs, and how a younger generation of social media savvy SGV residents are helping promote establishments that are still open.

Watch the full interview below:

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Culture

We Talk the Pandemic’s Effects on L.A. Restaurants with Chef Royce Burke

May 7, 2020 by Brian Champlin
Photo of Royce Burke by John Troxell

In Wednesday’s episode of We Talk L.A., chef Royce Burke called in for a chat about how the restaurant industry is coping with the COVID-19 pandemic, and how he’s trying to play a small part in helping the community via his newly relaunched pop-up service.

Burke is the former owner of Yarrow and the current owner/operator of Secret Lasagna. Soon after ‘Safer at Home’ went into effect in L.A., Burke and his team brought back the Secret Lasagna concept to deliver delicious comfort food to hungry Angelenos and employ out-of-work food service workers.

Secret Lasagna’s efforts include a partnership with No You Without Us, a charity fundraiser created by Va’La Hospitality to provide relief for families of back of the house kitchen support staff during COVID-19.

During our chat, we hit on a number of important issues facing restaurants right now, including:

  • How the pandemic has put a spotlight on existing flaws within the industry
  • The looming uncertainty of even thinner margins and more debt
  • Why it’s vital to help undocumented workers and how No You Without Us is playing a role
  • The challenges of a hard pivot to delivery or takeout only
  • How this situation has highlighted which owners/employers are doing more (or less) for their workers

You can catch the full episode embedded below.

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View Points

L.A. Trails Won’t Stay Open Long If People Can’t Follow the Rules

May 7, 2020 by Brian Champlin
Hikers pass by one another in Griffith Park. Photo: Brian Champlin

During yesterday’s daily briefing, Mayor Eric Garcetti announced that Los Angeles is moving to Stage 2 of 5 in relaxing social distancing guidelines and reopening our city. This advancement includes the opening of public trails within the city on May 9, with provisions that hikers wear facial coverings and maintain physical distancing.

Regaining access to parks and trails is certainly an exciting development for nature-starved Angelenos who’ve been cooped up in their homes for the past six-plus weeks. But the mayor was clear in an email sent out this morning:

“Remember: we originally closed hiking trails when they became too crowded to be safe, and if we see people failing to keep their distance, wear face coverings, and follow the rules, we will be forced to close them again.”

If you think back to the weekend after Safer at Home was announced (I know that seems like a lifetime ago), you’ll recall that initially, city parks were still open. But that all changed very quickly.

This helicopter footage from NBC Los Angeles showed small groups of hikers packing trails in Griffith Park on Sunday, March 22 (skip to the 14:20 mark as a prime example). That evening, the Mayor took to Twitter to announce the closure of L.A. city parks and beaches.

What if the same scenario plays out again this weekend? What if news choppers spy swarms of Angelenos hiking in closed columns along city trails?

We spoke with Casey Schreiner, founder of the popular Modern Hiker blog and author of Discovering Griffith Park, last week (video below) about the eventual reopening of trails, but followed up with him again following the Stage 2 announcements. He’s concerned that guidelines for trail usage won’t be embraced by all. Some of the reader feedback he’s getting indicates locals are bracing at restrictions.

“An unsettling number of comments I’ve seen so far seemed to be complaining about the need to wear masks outdoors,” Schreiner said in a statement to We Like L.A. “I do hope these people remember that these trails were completely off-limits to everyone for almost two months, and that dealing with a minor discomfort is a very small price of admission to our beloved green spaces. If people do think it’s too much to ask to maintain social distance or have a face covering, I’d encourage them to stick to neighborhood walks so the trails don’t close again.”

Griffith Park is hardly the only trail people can use in the city and county of Los Angeles, but it is among the most popular. There is a reason that Runyon Canyon was specifically called out and won’t open this Saturday. Officials are clearly worried about the possibility of overcrowding and/or that hikers will fail to physically distance. And I bet dollars to donuts that if they see more helicopter footage like linked above, they’ll be quick to shut trails back down.

So here’s a thought: maybe don’t use the trails right now. Maybe not just yet. Maybe wait to see what the usage level is like at your favorite destination. Maybe plan to use it less often than you might have before. Ultimately, for our parks and trails to remain open, people will have to use them more sparingly.

And if you’re hell-bent on going to Griffith Park or some other popular hiking destination this weekend, perhaps it’s best to ask yourself a couple of questions.

First, are you prepared to keep a mask on when it’s 85 degrees, in no shade? If not, maybe skip it for now.

Second, if you arrive at a trailhead and notice that it’s already full of hikers, do you have a plan B, C, or D? Could you drive to another less-used trail, or are you willing to scrap the plan altogether and try for another day?

Look, I’m not here to debate the public policy merits of extending park closures, nor the health benefits of wearing facial coverings while hiking on crowded trails. I know everyone is anxious to get back to using these resources. Garcetti admitted as much in his presser yesterday.

But it should be clear by now how conservative our city and county officials are being about rollout. With many unknowns still at play in terms of testing, a second wave of infections, a timeline for treatment options, and a host of other factors, caution still seems like the wiser course.

Given that context, I hope local residents are judicious in how and when they choose to come back and use our public lands. It will make a big difference in whether they stay open.

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Culture

LAPL Wants Your Help to Document Life in L.A. During COVID-19

May 5, 2020 by Brian Champlin
Los Angeles Central Library Photo by: Brian Champlin

There’s no doubt that we’re all living through a historic time. Part of the responsibility of living through this history is maintaining an accurate account of what’s happening now so that future generations can know it, study it, and learn from it. The Los Angeles Public Library (LAPL) is asking Angelenos to help document life in L.A. during the COVID-19 pandemic. They call it the “Safer at Home Archive.”

LAPL asks locals to submit materials that “tell the story of COVID-19 and its impact on different facets of your life.” This broad request could take many creative forms, such as photographs, drawings, diary entries, poems, or paintings. It could also include different types of correspondence, including letters or emails. The goal is to document a range of experiences specific to the pandemic, whether it’s showing the stresses put on essential workers, changes in daily routine, the experience of telecommuting, or other adaptations in behavior required by physical distancing.

You can submit your digital contributions to this page. Along with the file attachment, you’ll have to fill out a short questionnaire and digitally sign a consent and copyright release form.

The library will curate the submissions and then make them available to the public through TESSA, its online special collections portal.

If you have questions about the project or how to submit, you can email the Digitization & Special Collections department at rarebook@lapl.org.

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Culture

We Talk Reopening L.A. Trails & Discovering Griffith Park With Modern Hiker’s Casey Schreiner

May 1, 2020 by Brian Champlin
Griffith Park Trail Near Glendale Peak
Griffith Park Trail Near Glendale Peak / Photo by: Christina Champlin

In the latest episode of We Talk L.A., we welcome Modern Hiker’s Casey Schreiner to chat about his new book, Discovering Griffith Park, and to discuss his outlook on reopening area trails. Schreiner expects that many counties will take a cautious approach to loosening restrictions, and he hopes that Los Angeles’s myriad land use agencies are on the same page when parks do inevitably (hopefully) start reopening.

In the second part of our conversation, Schreiner dives deeper into the complicated legacy of Griffith J. Griffith. Griffith’s benevolence changed L.A. forever, but his personal life was steeped in scandal. (This was the man who shot his wife in the face after accusing her—incorrectly—of poisoning him.) We discuss.

Other topics include the multiple ways to see to the Hollywood Sign, issues of crowding and overuse in Griffith Park, and why it’s important to acknowledge the native inhabitants who occupied the territory of Los Angeles before the idea of this city even existed.

You can listen to the full episode above. Schreiner’s new book Discovering Griffith Park comes out on May 15. You can pre-order it now on Amazon or via independent retailers on Bookstore.

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Culture

Meditation App Headspace Now Free for L.A. County Residents

April 30, 2020 by Brian Champlin
Image via Headspace

Rising anxiety is a struggle many Angelenos face as they cope with the direct and indirect effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. To help meet the mental health challenges of the moment, the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health (LACDMH) has partnered with meditation app Headspace to offer free Headspace subscriptions to all residents of L.A. County.

“LACDMH is committed more than ever to being a source of strength, stability, and service by providing the people of Los Angeles County with the mental health resources that they need,” Dr. Johnathan Sherin, M.D., Ph.D., director of LACDMH, said via a release. “We are proud to offer Headspace as another way to help people cope with the stress and anxiety related to COVID-19.”

The subscription is for the premium version of Headspace, which offers over 1,000 hours of mindfulness training, sleeping and breathing exercises, and meditation tutorials. Much of the content is tailored for beginners, and it also comes in a variety of time lengths and focus points. Whether you want quick one-minute body scanning sessions or more in-depth training regimens, it’s pretty easy to plug and play using whatever level of sophistication and/or expertise you’re comfortable with. It’s a welcome resource for those in Los Angeles trying to center their minds.

“The world is an increasingly stressful place these days, and amid the uncertainty of this public health crisis, it’s crucial to provide support and equip people with the tools to help decrease stress, anxiety, and loneliness,” said Dr. Megan Jones Bell, Psy.D., Chief Science Officer at Headspace. “We want to be here for the people of L.A. and do our part to help our fellow L.A. County residents get through this challenging time.”

To sign up, residents can head to this link. Once there, you’ll be asked to authorize geotagging so the site can verify your location (you have to be in L.A. County to use the offer).

There is one caveat. Existing Headspace subscribers can’t get in on the deal, as this offer is only valid for new users. A Headspace subscription normally costs either $69.99 a year, or $12.99 a month if you don’t want to pre-pay.

If you’re not an L.A. County resident, keep in mind that Headspace currently offers “Weathering the Storm,” a free collection of meditations, sleep, and movement exercises, all designed to help people cope with COVID-19.

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