Unions for frontline workers call for 4-week shutdown in LA County in January amid COVID-19 surge

The pandemic has been tough on everyone — but especially those who are on the frontlines, unable to stay safely at home as COVID-19 cases, deaths and hospitalizations have reached record-high volumes in Los Angeles County. 

Desperate for the county to get the virus under control, unions representing nurses, healthcare, teachers, grocery store and hotel employees are demanding that the LA County Board of Supervisors urgently enact a 'circuit breaker' — a strict 4-week lockdown in January, to ultimately save lives and allow the economy and schools to reopen faster.

On Wednesday, LA County reported 22,422 new COVID-19 cases, recording the highest daily COVID-19 infection count since the start of the pandemic. The county also reported 138 additional coronavirus fatalities, seven of which were reported Tuesday by health officials in Long Beach. The new deaths, the highest single-day number ever reported, lifted the countywide cumulative total to 8,568.

RELATED: LA County reports 22,422 new COVID-19 cases, shatters record for most deaths in single day

"As the dire situation worsens, we are calling on you to take bold action now to
save lives and to support our most vulnerable working families," the letter sent to the Board of Supervisors reads. "We urge you to immediately call for state and federal funds to allow LA County to have a true lockdown, one that prioritizes the lives of everyone — particularly essential workers and working families — over comfort and convenience."

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The proposed shutdown would be similar to lockdown measures implemented in March and would "lower cases to relieve the pressure on hospitals and healthcare workers, allow state and local health agencies to strengthen the testing and tracing system, and allow the system to work better to prevent future surges in viral transmission," according to the letter.

It was signed by United Teachers Los Angeles, Unite Here Local 11, California Nurses Assn., United Food and Commercial Workers Local 770 and three other unions, several community groups and medical experts.

The board will meet on Tuesday, and this push will present counter pressure on county leaders from business owners who have been looking to limit commercial restrictions.

RELATED: Stay up to date on all coronavirus-related information

"Let’s be clear — we are not in a real lockdown," UTLA President Cecily Myart-Cruz told the Los Angeles Times. "While some people are able to stay home to work, the working-class and poor people of L.A. have to choose between risking their lives or putting food on the table for their families."

She told the newspaper that the shutdown must be accompanied by a financial survival package for workers. "Without that, it’s clear that elected leaders expect workers to risk their lives in order to pay rent," she said.

"The victims of COVID-19 are not random. They are overwhelmingly essential workers, poor people, and people of color," the letter reads. "People of color, many of whom are essential workers, are dying at twice the rate of other residents. By doing all you can to suppress this pandemic surge, you will be protecting our families and friends who are especially at risk of infection and death due to racial and economic inequities."

According to the county's own data, as well as information provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Latinos in Los Angeles are dying of COVID-19 at twice the rate of white people. One in three Black Americans personally know someone who has died of COVID-19. In Los Angeles, Native Hawaiians/Pacific Islanders have the highest COVID-19 crude and adjusted death rates than any other racial/ethnic group. And Asians who become infected with COVID-19 are over four times as likely to die compared to other Angelenos.

Los Angeles County's healthcare system is currently "under siege," Dr. Christina Ghaly, the county's health services director said on Wednesday.

"I want to be very clear, our hospitals are under siege, and our models show no end in sight," Ghaly said. "The worst is still before us."

Ghaly said there are currently 916 total available hospital beds in the county, 102 of which are ICU beds. She said the county now estimates one of every 80 residents who aren't hospitalized or quarantined are infected with COVID-19 and capable of infecting others.

"Today in Los Angeles County, let me be clear, we have a problem and at this point, all our hospital systems can do is brace for the days and weeks to come," Ghaly said.

She said the county is currently averaging 600 new COVID-19 hospital admissions every day, and that number could potentially reach 1,350 per day by the end of the month. She added that the demand for ICU beds could soon exceed — by 1,000 patients or more — the county's entire licensed ICU bed capacity of about 2,500.

Since overall hospital space is based not on the number of physical beds, but on available staffing to treat patients, the county's total number of beds can dramatically change daily.

As of Wednesday, less than 1% of ICU beds remained available across Southern California, according to state data. Since the start of the pandemic, more than 60,000 healthcare workers have contracted the virus in California and 230 have died, according to figures provided by the California Nurses Assn.