LOS ANGELES - Los Angeles County Public Health Director, Dr. Barbara Ferrer, said Monday inspectors visited 2,000 restaurants over the weekend, and half of them were "still not in compliance'' with health requirements.
"They'll be revisiting all of the restaurants that were not in compliance and issuing them an order to come into compliance," Ferrer said.
"We've been doing a lot of education, but starting this week we're actually going to revisit places where we noted that people still had concerns, they had confusion, they hadn't quite made the changes. There should be no places where tables are right next to each other. They either need a six-foot (separation) or a physical barrier. Those are requirements in the protocols."
"We're really working hard with our restaurants," she added. "I want to note that 50% of the restaurants we visited were in complete compliance, which is way up from where we were the first weekend. So I want to thank all those restaurants that are in fact doing their very best to adhere to the protocols and put in place those measures that offer safety."
Dr. Ferrer explained more during an interview on Good Day LA Tuesday.
"Yes, we are worried. I want to say the positive side [is that] that 50% of the restaurants are in compliance,” she said.
“As you know when people are in a restaurant and they’re eating and drinking, they’re not actually able to keep on that cloth face covering so we’re going to depend so heavily on everything else we can do,” she added. This includes “protecting the workers so that they have an extra face shield when they’re approaching people at those tables. But the distancing becomes very important.”
When it comes to the eateries who were not in compliance, Ferrer said: “I know it’s complicated and I also know some restaurants just weren’t aware of what the protocols are…now is really the time to become well-informed.”
She also used an example of how quickly COVID-19 can spread of restaurants do not abide to proper safety protocols.
"We have over 40,000 restaurants in LA County. So, if you think that half of them aren’t necessarily going to be in compliance, that’s 20,000 restaurants. If you think that maybe even 50 people a day are going into those restaurants and those 10 workers that are going into those restaurants, you can see how quickly those numbers are going to multiply."
L.A. County's COVID-19 death toll stands at nearly 3,000 Tuesday, and nearly 1,100 new cases of the disease were confirmed --including 41 reported in Long Beach and Pasadena -- boosting the number of cases to 73,832.
The numbers of new deaths and confirmed cases are typically lower on Mondays and Tuesday as figures are compiled from the weekend.
Ferrer explained how to best contextualize coronavirus case numbers:
"I will say for us, important numbers are not just the number of positive cases. Obviously, everyone is going to be watching that. But the number of positive cases also reflects how much testing you’re doing. A couple of weeks ago, we were testing up to 20,000 people a day. The more people you test, the more you’re going to find positive cases. That’s always a good thing. Finding people who are positive, so that they can go ahead and isolate themselves…we can find their close contacts so that their close contacts can self-quarantine, that’s a containment strategy. It’s really important. What we also look at is what’s the rate of positivity for everybody who gets tested. So, if 100 people get tested and the rate of positive stays at 8%, then you would expect if 1,000 people get tested, you’re going to have absolutely more cases. But the rate of positivity means that you’re not necessarily seeing a huge increase in community transmission. So, we’re always going to look at not just at the number of cases, but what we call the positivity rate and we stay fairly steady at 8%,” she explained. “When that starts to climb up, you’re going to be more concerned about what’s happening. I also encourage people to look at the daily hospitalizations. How many people are in our hospitals? Because we really do need to make sure that our healthcare system stays intact. So, one way of really judging is how many people are in the hospitals and then how much bed capacity do we have? Our hospitalization rate has actually come down the last two months."
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Despite rising case and fatality numbers, county officials said the still remain confident moving forward with economic recovery efforts, although some businesses -- most notably newly reopened dine-in restaurants -- are struggling to comply with mandatory protocols such as social distancing and limited capacity.
County officials have continued to stress the need for residents to continue practicing social-distancing and wearing face coverings when mixing the public. They have warned that reopening more businesses is not a sign that the coronavirus pandemic has receded or disappeared, but reopening the economy is essential.
"We're trying to balance public health with getting people back to work," County Supervisor Kathryn Barger said. "Because we know it's not an 'either-or,' it's got to be an 'and.' We want to be driven by industry, recognizing that Dr. Ferrer and her team will help us ensure that people are doing the social distancing and everything is in place at each business to ensure that people are protected."
"So it's a constant balancing act, for sure, and there's no perfect science," she said. "But I know in L.A. County we want it to be both industry and public health driving that narrative moving forward, and we've done it in a very slow, deliberative fashion to make sure that we are, again, balancing the public health needs with getting people back to work."
During Tuesday's GDLA interview, Ferrer also said health officials support the reopening of businesses and that they do not want to reclose any sectors.
“The last thing we want to think about is reclosing any of the sectors that are reopening. It takes a lot to reopen. We want to support everybody who is reopening but we are asking that you come into compliance. These are sensible regulations. They’re really meant to prevent us from seeing that spike in cases. That would be so disastrous here in LA county.”
The county has formed a task force of leaders from major industries, and that panel has helped develop reopening guidelines for those sectors. That task force is scheduled to meet again Tuesday.