LA reopens retail stores, churches, drive-in theaters. Is it the right time?

LA Mayor Eric Garcetti announced on Tuesday that retail stores, churches, drive-in movie theaters, apartment complex pools, flea markets and swap meets could all reopen. 

There are restrictions. Retail stores and places of worship can only open if they strictly monitor how many people can enter. Social distancing and face coverings are still required.

Nail salons and barbershops are not allowed to reopen yet.

Garcetti’s announcement came the same day Governor Newsom relaxed restrictions statewide.

LA County reports that it has more than 47,000 cases of COVID-19 and more than 2000 deaths. California has some 100,000 cases. 

UCLA epidemiology professor Dr. Timothy Brewer says, “If you look at the trends of case numbers and hospitalizations and deaths … they've either plateaued or they've been coming down a little bit since about May 10 or so. So I think we have, in fact, been able to change that trajectory from an outbreak that was increasing to an outbreak that is either stabilized or actually coming down a little bit.”

Is now an appropriate time to reopen these various places in LA? 

Brewer: “We have to do that at some point, right? So we can't keep the economy closed. … I think that this will be a learning process for all of us. The virus is clearly still spreading in our community. And a key factor will be how does the public respond?”

Why has COVID-19 been so stubborn in Los Angeles County?

“We're one of the largest — if not the largest county in the country. … The Los Angeles case rate is running somewhere between 450 and 470 per 100,000. To put that in perspective, there are counties in New York and New Jersey that are eight times higher, over 3000 per 100,000. There are counties in Georgia, Louisiana, multiple other states that are all over 1000 per 100,000. So over two or three times what we're seeing in Los Angeles.”

What will you keep your eyes on during this cautious reopening?

“I would be looking for the case numbers and rates. Are they changing? Are they going up again? What's happening with hospitalization? So if you look at hospitalizations, they've also been kind of flat, are coming down a little bit. Do we see a surge in hospitalizations? 

All of these would be concerns that maybe the virus is getting ahead of us again, and we need to either ramp up our public health response (that's much preferable) or we need to ramp up the stay-at-home (which would be much less preferable).

One of the things we've learned from the stay-at-home orders is the dramatic economic upheaval that occurs when you do this, right? So they're trying to balance both sides of the public health and the economy. 

And a poor economy actually has health consequences. So poverty increases your risk of heart disease, depression. … So there are health trade-offs to shutting down the economy in addition to economic and social trade-off. 

So it's trying to find that balance. And I don't think anybody can claim for sure that we know exactly what the right balance is.”

Could there be another wave in the fall?

“So in the summer months, we spend less time indoors, and we spend more time outside and farther away from people. So COVID-19 probably will drop during the summer, but it will not go away. 

And so as we return to schools, as we return to congregate settings, as we spend more time indoors closer together in the fall and winter, I am very concerned that we will again see a resurgence of cases.”

—Written by Amy Ta, produced by Brian Hardzinski