New case numbers show LA doesn’t have COVID under control at all, says Supervisor Janice Hahn

Written by Danielle Chiriguayo and Amy Ta, produced by Brian Hardzinski

People wait in line as the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank distributes food outside a church during the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Los Angeles, California, U.S., November 19, 2020. Photo by REUTERS/Mike Blake.

Governor Gavin Newsom just announced a mandatory stay-at-home order for most of the state from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. This begins Saturday and will last for one month. LA County reported more than 5000 coronavirus new cases on Thursday. That’s the highest single day number so far. If that number doesn’t improve in the next few days, there could be more restrictions.

KCRW talks about the situation in LA County with Supervisor Janice Hahn. 

KCRW: What do you make of these new numbers — 5,000 new cases yesterday and 1200 people hospitalized?

Janice Hahn: “I am completely taken aback by this surge this week. I think on Tuesday, we were at 2300 cases. Then Wednesday, we shot up to [3900]. But now to already be over 5000 cases is really shocking to me. 

And I'm worried, to be honest with you. It's a very dire situation. And what we all are worried about is that, well, certainly we don't want people infected, we certainly don't want more people dying from this virus. But we're worried about our hospitals becoming overwhelmed, and certainly our frontline doctors and nurses and hospital staff to also be overwhelmed. So I'm worried, honestly, and I am shocked. It surged so quickly this week.”

What’s the number of cases over a five day period that the county looks at before shutting everything down?

“We laid out a plan on Tuesday. We said that if we reached 3500 cases a day, we would start implementing a lower capacity of diners at restaurants and a curfew on businesses from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. Well, that's already happened. 

Then we said if we hit five days of 4000 cases, we're going to move to only allow restaurants to operate for takeout and delivery. And then if we reach a 4500 average over five days, we're ready to trigger a three-week Safer At Home order. 

What's shocking to me is that on Tuesday when the Board of Supervisors said, 'Let's get ahead of this, let's not even wait until 3500, let's go ahead and tell restaurants let's limit your capacity, let's stop people from gathering at restaurants and bars after 10 p.m.,' we already hit the 3500 case. We were already over the 4000. 

And I heard Dr. [Barbara] Ferrer thinks that we might already be at the 4500 cases by, you know, either this weekend or Monday or Tuesday. 

So it's moving quickly. We did give people a little more warning this time about what would happen. So hopefully the public is looking at these numbers and are putting two and two together to understand where we're headed in LA County.”

It's probably safe to say that if people are infected, the number of COVID-positive cases will be high over the next few days. Actions taken now will not prevent those infections. What happens if we meet the rolling average of 4500 by Sunday?

“Then we're going to trigger that three-week Safer at Home order. … When we started [in] April [and] May … if you remember, we told people, ‘Look, you're safer at home.’ So just think about that. 

Anytime you're thinking about going out for something, you're safer at home. So you can go out and get groceries, but come right back home. If you have to go to the pharmacy to get your medicine, come back home. 

I think people have really become a little lax in their diligence about being safe because everyone's COVID fatigued. I know I am. But we have to remember what it was like when there were very few cars on the street, and it almost seemed a little eerie that people weren't out and about. And we're looking to go back to that maybe next week, all the way through the end of the year. And it's unfortunate because I think people thought we were learning to live with this virus and putting safety protocols in place. But these numbers don't indicate that we have got it under control at all.”

So that means restaurants would only be open for takeout or delivery, and closed for outdoor dining?

“Yes.”

All non-essential businesses would be shut down. Correct? 

“Correct.”

All retail that’s non-essential would be shut down?

“I think so. I think that's what we're looking at. Again, we did that early on, and we felt like things were under control, so we started listening to the business community and the retailer saying, 'You gotta throw us a lifeline here, we're drowning.' So we began to eke out outside dining and allowing indoor malls to reopen, and letting small businesses reopen, because we felt like we were losing jobs, we were killing our economy. But in retrospect, that might have given them a brief lifeline to their businesses. But here we are, right back where we started.”

It’s also the holiday season, when retailers really need the cash infusion. They’re already on the lifeline and were hoping that the holidays would carry them through. Now they might shut down again.

“Yes. I think some of the businesses that figured out how to pivot and reinvent themselves might survive. I think a lot of businesses didn't even have an online shopping website. And I think they've had to reinvent themselves. And I think if we can go back to encouraging people to shop online, so they're still getting what they need, plus allowing these businesses to remain open will work. 

But it's very tough, which is also why we should all just be screaming and hollering to Washington, D.C., ‘We need some help here.’ We need to be able to pay people to stay home. If we really want to get this under control before the vaccine comes, we need to make it okay for people not to work right now or not to have their businesses open. They need some kind of a lifeline from the federal government, and it's just disheartening to me that there is not a second coronavirus CARES Act coming our way. … People need to be safe, but they need an income. And they need to be able to support their families through this. And I don't understand why that's still in logjam.”

It doesn’t look like Congress will get unstuck until January. How does the county function until then? 

“We’re digging deep into our own coffers. And we're providing another round of grants to our small businesses. We're offering a $5 million pool of grants to child care facilities because we know there are certain parents that don't have the luxury of working from home and they have to go to work. But they found it very difficult, and financially sometimes unaffordable for child care. So we're going to get some money straight to these child care facilities, so that they'll be able to offer vouchers to parents who need it. So we in the county are continuing to give out money to small businesses, to nonprofits, to childcare facilities, so that some people can survive.” 

Are you rethinking school closures in LA County? Scientific evidence suggests the virus isn’t easily spread through small children and that schools are safer than businesses that were allowed to stay open like restaurants and bars. Damage is being done to children, such as a year’s worth of learning loss. Are you considering doing anything to open schools back up more quickly?

“Everything is about getting kids back to school, which is why it's been a very difficult balance making efforts to open restaurants and breweries and casinos, while we know the real goal is to get kids back to school. 

So right now … any elementary school in LA County can allow their TK [transitional kindergarten] through second grade right now to come back to campus. Then we're also offering every elementary school the ability to bring other students back on campus who are those that really need in-person learning. They might have special needs, they might have disabilities, they might be English learners. 

But we all know those kids who really aren't doing well at home online, and we're also allowing those to come back. So there's quite a number of students that can come back right now on campus. But the goal is, and maybe by January [a] new semester, we're going to be able to then bring all kids through sixth grade back on campus. 

But we always had to caveat, unless there was a Safer at Home order happening. And when we were making these plans, none of us believed that that would be a reality, that by January, 'Oh, we'll be able to bring kids back.' But now looking at the possibility of a Safer at Home order here in LA County, then that makes the haul coming back to school more complicated. 

But I do worry about our kids. There's so much they're losing in terms of social interaction with friends. And now we're all going to sort of lose our traditional sense of what Thanksgiving is. We may be losing the holidays in December. So it's a year that we're sacrificing. 

And I guess my message is: We all have to just buckle down. There are going to be some sacrifices. And just hope that 2021 will be a brighter year for all of us with the introduction of a vaccine.”

Credits

Guest:
Janice Hahn - LA County Supervisor for District 4 - @SupJaniceHahn

Host:
Madeleine Brand

Producers:
Sarah Sweeney, Michell Eloy, Amy Ta, Rosalie Atkinson, Brian Hardzinski, Angie Perrin, Nihar Patel