LA County wants to open by July 4. What will it take to get there?

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Manhattan Beach pier has been closed due to COVID-19. LA County hopes to reopen the economy and lift stay-at-home restrictions by July 4, 2020. Photo by Amy Ta.

LA County Supervisors hope to open the region by Independence Day. 

LA County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer’s response: “We have to do a lot of things right, so we can actually get to that date of July 4 and have lots of different sectors reopened. … We all are going to need to do our part. And we’re still going to need to pay a lot of attention to what the data’s telling us.”

Part of reopening requires more testing, and LA is offering free testing to anyone who wants it. More than 350,000 people have been tested out of a population of more than 10 million.

What else will it take to reopen, and how can Angelenos get there? 

KCRW checks in with Jonathan Fielding, former director of the LA County Department of Public Health. He’s now Professor of Health Policy and Management and of Pediatrics at UCLA.

He says part of the answer lies in how Angelenos act once they’re in public. Using the example of restaurants and close-quartered retail stores, Fielding says social distancing might be difficult in those small spaces. 

With warmer weather approaching, people might also start to curb the use of masks. 

“It’s going to be more difficult because people, even if they know what they’re supposed to be doing, they may say ‘Well for me, it’s not a risk, I’m young ... so I’ll take a chance,’” Fielding says.  

But on the whole, public messaging around COVID-19 has been good, he says, due to its consistency and adoption by the community. 

Fielding is optimistic about reopening, but says the journey to reopening must be guided by science. 

Understanding how widespread COVID-19 exposure has been will be important. But he notes that while increased testing is assuring to the public, he’s unsure how beneficial it will be around low-risk populations. 

And when schools reopen, they’ll have challenges around curbing virus transmissions. Schools have adopted virtual learning, but it’s unclear when in-person classes will resume, says Fielding.

In order for life to go back to “normal,” Fielding says a vaccine will be needed. “We're not going to get there just with the natural course of this disease. We're going to need the vaccine for things to really be moving in a positive way to back towards what we consider normal.”

— Written by Danielle Chiriguayo and Amy Ta, produced by Angie Perrin