Q&A with LA County Public Health Director Dr. Barbara Ferrer

As parts of Los Angeles are starting to open, there's a new order in place from the LA County Department of Public Health indicating masks have to be worn whenever you leave your house, with few exceptions. But, some people are confused as to what that exactly means. FOX 11's Tony McEwing spoke exclusively with Dr. Barbara Ferrer on Good Day LA Friday morning to help clear up some questions:

McEwing: We now have a mandatory order in place if you are in LA County that if you leave your house, you must have a mask with few exceptions. If you are an employee in a business that is open, you have to wear a mask. Why now?

Dr. Ferrer: Let me first clarify what you need to do in terms of having your face covering on. You need a face covering when you're going to be in contact with other people. The face covering is to protect other people, so obviously if you're not going to be in contact with other people, you don't need to wear a face covering. We never said that if you leave your house, you need to put on a face covering. I would suggest you have one with you in case you think you're not going to be around other people, and then your plans change and you're going to be around other people,  but it really is a protection that you offer somebody else by putting on that face covering. That means your respiratory droplets won't actually go out onto other people. If you have a kind of a job where you work by yourself in an office, and there are no other people around you, again you don't need to have that face covering on. It's really to protect other people. When you have a job where you are going to be with a lot of other people, please use that face covering.

McEwing: And obviously if you're in your car by yourself, you don't need to wear a face covering as well?

Dr. Ferrer: Absolutely. And if you're going running and you're by yourself, don't wear one. If you're an athlete that's running hard. Not a good idea. Just find a place to run where you're not going to be running in a crowded situation with lots of other people nearby.  I think it's common sense. It's really about protecting somebody else. This is how we help each other.

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McEwing: We've made this mandatory now, so what's going on in LA County in terms of the numbers? Are we trending up when it comes to new infection rates and deaths? Are we trending down? Are we flattening the curve at all? Where are we?

Dr. Ferrer: We flattened the curve because we didn't have a really big sort of spike is what we would say. We're kind of level, but every day I report new cases. Yesterday we added about 950 new cases, and unfortunately, most tragically every day, I report a new set of people who have unfortunately passed away from COVID-19, and that's averaging about 50 people a day. Some days it's slightly higher. So, we still continue to see a lot of disease. On average, there are about 1,800 people in the hospital on a given day in LA County who are sick with COVID-19. And COVID-19 is still the leading cause of death every day. More people die every day from COVID-19 than any other single disease that we're tracking. So it is a lot of concern.

I think we did do such a good job not having that extreme peak that would overwhelm our healthcare system, that I feel confident if we continue to take care of each other -- and this is really about taking care of each other -- we can move into recovery. We move into it slowly. We go ahead and offer the same protections as every other sector starts opening. For essential workers and essential businesses, we require that you needed to have face coverings if you're going to be in contact with other people. And that was a sector that was open, so as we're opening other sectors, we want the same protections -- there are protections for workers for customers, for visitors. 

And I really want to emphasize this is our way of helping each other. And we don't have a lot of ways to help each other in this pandemic situation besides keeping our distance, putting on the face coverings so that our respiratory droplets stay as contained as possible, and really adhering to all the guidance that's out there about keeping yourself as safe as possible, keeping others as safe as possible, so we're not infecting each other. Things change because we really found out that there were a fair amount of people with no symptoms and were positive for COVID-19. So, initially, we thought it was really symptomatic people, and it was much easier guidance. It really meant 'stay home when you're sick. That's the best way to protect each other.' But if you're not sick and you can still spread the virus, we have to use these other tools. 

I'm grateful for being here because I look around and I see most people in fact are using those face coverings and they are being sensible, and I know we all share the goal of protecting each other.

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McEwing: Dr. Ferrer, however, there are some notable exceptions that are going on out there. We saw one of those today -- in fact we have a reporter on this story -- apparently the Original Pancake House in NorCo has decided to defy orders to remain closed, and they are allowing in-room dining at that restaurant in NorCo. What's your reaction to that?

Dr. Ferrer: The state has been very clear that nowhere in the state unless you're in one of the counties that have been able to attest to having only one death in the last 14 days should you be opening your restaurants at this point in time. I really appreciated that they put guidance out that allowed restaurants to get prepared for the lifting of those restrictions so that you can, in fact, do everything you can once you do reopen to be as safe as possible. But there is no ability right now to really reopen restaurants until the state goes ahead and indicates that it's safe enough for us to do that. And I think everybody's looking at the data. They're seeing that as a state, we continue to see increases in the number of cases and increases in the number of deaths, and we're moving forward slowly. But I do appreciate that people would like to get back to in-person dining, and I appreciate that many restaurants are trying to prepare themselves for being able to do that when the orders are lifted.

McEwing: With regard to a little bit of confusion that was created when people thought that perhaps we would be totally shut down for another three months. We want you to help clarify that even more. That is probably not going to be the case over the next 3 or 4 months. Are we going to see more businesses opening up?

Dr. Ferrer: Yes, absolutely, and thanks again for giving me an opportunity to clarify. I'm so sorry for any of the confusion that was caused. What we are really clear about is that we are in the recovery phase, and in our recovery journey here in LA County and across the state, and trying to gradually figure out how to safely reopen the many sectors that have closed, and the health officer orders will allow us to do that. It really allows us as we go through this process to layout where it makes sense for us to be reopening and how to do that reopening as safely as possible. I'm going to emphasize that when we do the reopenings -- you'll notice that for all the reopenings and all of the sectors where we're now able to enjoy outside activities and we're able to enjoy being able to pick up goods from retailers -- it's all being done in ways that look different from how it was done before, and I think that's the important part of the recovery journey. We're going to be doing things differently, but we are very anxious to make sure people can get back to work and people can enjoy our beautiful outdoors.

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Viewer Question #1: How are businesses opening and not daycares? How are parents supposed to work when daycare centers are not open?

Dr. Ferrer: I want to emphasize that daycare centers are essential businesses, and they were never closed by us or by the state. They are in fact allowed to operate. Again, there are protocols in place so that those centers can operate as safely as possible. I think there's a couple of issues that we recognize are really important to acknowledge. One is that there are some daycare sites where the person who was the provider at the daycare site and/or some of the employees had underlying health conditions that put them at higher risk, and so that was a situation where the employees and/or the owner may have made a decision that it was impossible for them to stay open. I think there were other places where making the modifications on class size were really very difficult to do, and again decisions were made by the operators of the daycare site to close. We are here and have offered a lot of help for those daycare providers that want to open, and they want to be safe in their reopening when they did close down. But there are also a lot of daycare providers here in LA County that are still open, and you can, in fact, go to the county's website to get help locating a daycare center near you that's still open.

Viewer Question #2: Are dental offices planning to reopen normally?

Dr. Ferrer: The state issued some really good and detailed guidance for the dental offices to be able to open for more routine and essential services. They also have some serious modifications that they need to make to their practices so they can operate safely. But yes, dental offices are allowed to reopen. They need to adhere to the state's guidance on how to do that safely. There are some procedures that will need to be done in perhaps a different setting so they can be done fording both the dentist and the dental hygienist and the patients the maximum amount of protection. But yes, dentists are allowed to start resuming normal activities, again with modifications.

McEwing: People who are wearing their face coverings. You want them to make sure they are clean and fresh. Is that correct?

Dr. Ferrer: Yes you should wash it every day and please make sure it covered your nose and your mouth.

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