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Coronavirus

What’s next in COVID-19 fight?

As number of cases seems to be leveling off, gov’t, businesses looking ahead

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COVID-19, gay news, Washington Blade

California Gov. Gavin Newsom this week laid out his road map for recovery for the state’s economy as well as public health. (Blade photo by Michael Key)

The numbers are grim, in California as of Wednesday, April 15, there were 25,712 cases of persons testing positive for COVID-19 and 779 Californians who had lost their lives. In Los Angeles County there had been 10,047 cases with 360 Angelenos who had died. But, undeterred, California’s Gov. Gavin Newsom in his daily press conference Tuesday, April 14, laid out his road map for recovery for the state’s economy as well as public health.

Newsom’s strategy revolves around six key factors to bring back the state to a sense of normal albeit the governor cautioned that ‘new normal’ meant serious changes in how the public and businesses went about their daily routines. He also warned that until procedures and protocols were able to alleviate the risks and dangers of the transmission of the virus, for the immediate future there would be no large gatherings of the state’s residents in any setting.

The governor cautioned that when things reopen, they won’t be the same. Restaurants will have fewer tables and waiters will wear gloves and masks. Thermometers will be common in public spaces, as will masks and other protective gear. Schools could stagger arrival times of students to enforce physical distancing.

Large gatherings such as sporting events, concerts and fairs are “not in the cards,” Newsom said.“This can’t be a permanent state. It’s not it will not be a permanent state,” he added.

“This is not about going back to where we were before. It’s about going forward in ways that are healthy for all of us. But it won’t look the same,” said Dr. Sonia Angell, director of the California Department of Public Health, who was also present at the briefing, in response to a reporter’s question.

California’s six indicators for modifying the stay-at-home order are:

• The ability to monitor and protect our communities through testing, contact tracing, isolating, and supporting those who are positive or exposed;

• The ability to prevent infection in people who are at risk for more severe COVID-19;

• The ability of the hospital and health systems to handle surges;

• The ability to develop therapeutics to meet the demand;

• The ability for businesses, schools, and child care facilities to support physical distancing; and

• The ability to determine when to reinstitute certain measures, such as the stay-at-home orders, if necessary.

For the past week, the Los Angeles Blade has been speaking with business owners, workers, suppliers, real estate companies, government officials and others directly impacted in West Hollywood especially.

Many of the participants asked to not be identified in fear of their remarks jeopardizing their individual or company’s situation and in some cases because the person wasn’t authorized to speak publicly to the media.

In simplest terms, even with an incremental reopening of the economy, the practical aspect for many of the businesses and their employees is survivability. Larger businesses have cash reserves or credit lines that will allow for a throttled return to operations, that however is not true of smaller and single-owner establishments.

The considerations are more than just rent or mortgages, it is paying staff, suppliers, taxes, and then having money to advertise to draw in customers. In the cases of restaurants, bars, and nightclubs, which are the No. 1 draw to West Hollywood’s tourist-based economy, the new restrictive guidelines mean dramatic alterations to their routines and operations.

“It’s a practical matter to how I operate — well, will be forced to operate,” a restaurant and bar owner told the Blade. “I’m going to have to make sure that there’s enough space around my customers for this social distancing, means less tables, and frankly less wait staff. Oh then my bar, I’m not sure how that will work, like on Fridays or the weekends before this, it was wall-to-wall crowded. Now?” He paused then went on to note, “I’m going to have to train my security guys to what? Temp check plus check ID’s?”

Even now as businesses make plans to reopen, the past three weeks have taken a heavy toll on service workers, especially bartenders, wait staffers, drag performers, dancers and kitchen staffers. Looking ahead, many are scared that even if their employers reopen, they may not have a job to go back to if staffing needs are lessened by the reality of the new restrictions cited by Newsom and public health officials.

Kevin Spencer, a former bartender and West Hollywood resident has been leading a private effort to fundraise for service workers furloughed or laid off by the COVID-19 crisis. “The fundraising effort is to provide support for nightlife workers who are affected,” he told the Blade. “It’s money for food, medical, you know, essentials — I want to foster a sense of community.”

Spencer via social media and Zoom virtual community meetings alongside a working partnership with the Alliance for Housing & Healing set-up ‘WeHo’s Nights In.’ The website campaign from April 10 until its scheduled end on April 19 (helpweho.com) has already raised $9,387 of its $10,000 goal. Spencer told the Blade that his efforts were also partnered with the website wehocollective.com and that both were focused on small-dollar donations.

While his efforts are focused on the current state of affairs, Spencer acknowledged he is very concerned about the path forward. “I plan to keep this effort going as long as the need is there,” he said.

The severity of the economic impact has some WeHo business owners wondering if they’re able to even consider reopening. “What about rent — are the landlords willing to defer payments or even breakdown past due rent in smaller chunks spacing them out until the debt’s repaid?”

That question was asked by one owner who admitted that he just didn’t have the cash reserves and that even though he’s applied for the federal relief program passed by Congress, the Paycheck Protection Program, a $350 billion fund for direct business loans as part of the $2 trillion Coronavirus Stimulus Package signed into law last month by President Trump, his operating costs meant that even pre-pandemic margins are razor-thin.

“If I’m restricted to the number of customers- especially during lunchtime which is my busiest time, I’m just going to lose money. People only have a certain amount of time and I’m not going to set up to a bunch of carry-out and I can’t afford delivery,” he said.

“Everyone is going to have to rethink how business will be conducted moving forward,” WeHo City Council member John Duran told the Blade. “There’s not going to be this ‘magical day’ when everything returns to normal,” he said.

Duran acknowledges that while WeHo’s larger retail operations will be able to return to normal operations, others, the smaller individual businesses likely won’t. “Property owners, nightclubs, restaurants, they are all going to have to manage a new way of working with how to manage to live with COVID-19.”

He reflected that the current pandemic will simply mean that WeHo as a community will have to adapt.

“There are three things that historically change things. War, famine, and plague, which if you look at the history of our city, it was founded during the AIDS pandemic and we survived because we adapted to a new reality. The LGBTQ community, which is a greater part of our city, can and will adapt, so will our businesses,” Duran said.

Gov. Newsom’s edict on large gatherings, in addition to directly impacting nightclubs, especially also affect conventions and large business meetings.

Charles Chan Massey and his husband Joseph Chan co-own Los Angeles-based SYNAXIS Meetings & Events. Charles weighed in regarding the impact the COVID-19 pandemic has had on their business.

“The majority of the events we manage are multi-day conferences. We have had three events that have had to shift dates so far: one in the finance industry, held annually in Chicago, originally scheduled for this month, that we have moved to August; a second for a segment of the cancer community, scheduled to be held this year in the LAX-area, where physicians, patients, and caregivers attend, originally slated for July, now rescheduled for October; and a third in the international tourism market, also scheduled for August in Los Angeles, that we’ve moved to late October. In all three cases, we have built contingencies into the revised venue contract addendum(s) in case we need to postpone yet again.”

“Conferences and events are by very their nature spaces where people go to interact with others who share common interests. The events industry is having to rethink what we’re all about. We started our company in 1994 so we’ve held events all over the world through civil disobedience, wars, earthquakes, hurricanes, SARS, and 9/11 but we’ve never experienced anything quite like this. We really are in uncharted territory,” Chan Massey told the Blade.

West Hollywood Mayor John D’Amico, seen here walking his dogs after recovering from Covid-19, says “I think we’ll see West Hollywood continue to lead the way…” (Photo D’Amico’s Facebook Page)

John D’Amico, the mayor of West Hollywood, told the Blade in an emailed statement on April 15: “The city’s response to the Covid-19 crisis continues to develop, along with Gov. Newsom’s, even as we are committed to assisting our business community to reopen when we can, modify their current business models and to adapt to new challenges with respect to proper public health guidelines. Times will be tough, but I think we’ll see West Hollywood continue to lead the way in creating new entertainment and community experience options.”

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Coronavirus

White House orders distribution of 400 million free N95 masks

Dr. Tom Inglesby, the administration’s Covid testing coordinator; “We know that these masks provide better protection than cloth masks”

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President Joe Biden (Blade file photo/screenshot)

WASHINGTON – As the latest surge of the highly contagious and easily transmissible Omicron variant of the coronavirus continues to cause a rise in hospitalizations, especially among unvaccinated adults and children, the White House announced Wednesday it is making 400 million N95 masks available for free at thousands of locations across the nation.

The plan an admkistartion official said, is to start shipping the nonsurgical masks to pharmacies and community health centers to distribute this week, which will come from the Strategic National Stockpile.

In an interview with NBC News, Dr. Tom Inglesby, the administration’s Covid testing coordinator, said, “We know that these masks provide better protection than cloth masks.”

The N95 masks will be made available to everybody, and recipients will not be prioritized based on vulnerability to Covid, income or other criteria. Inglesby said the administration was “confident that people who want to access them will be able to access them,” but it was not immediately clear how many masks a person could receive at one time.

On January 13, President Joe Biden had announced a plan to have the government distribute 1 billion rapid, at-home COVID-19 tests free to Americans, along with the N95 masks, as the administration works to fight the spiraling upward spike in coronavirus cases.

The White House website to order free at-home Covid tests went live Tuesday. The website says: “Every home in the U.S. is eligible to order 4 free at-home COVID-19 tests. The tests are completely free. Orders will usually ship in 7-12 days.”

A White House official said Wednesday that the distribution of 400 million masks would be the largest deployment of personal protective equipment in U.S. history.

Inglesby told NBC News that the administration was “absolutely preparing for the possibility of additional variants in the future” and that people could expect the government to make N95 masks “more and more available.”

Biden announces free masks, tests to fight omicron:

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Coronavirus

COVID-19 Cases increase by nearly 10 times in one month

While hospitalizations continue to climb, Public Health data shows that many positive cases are admitted for reasons other than COVID

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Graphic courtesy of UCLA/Centers for Disease Control & Prevention

LOS ANGELES – A total of 31,576 new COVID-19 cases were documented on Monday — up ten times the number of cases reported on Dec. 17, 2021, when there were 3,360 new cases recorded the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health reported Monday.

There are  4,564 people with COVID-19 currently hospitalized, nearly 6 times the number from one month ago when 772 people were hospitalized. The daily positivity rate is 16.5%, more than 8 times the 2% daily positivity rate on December 17th.

Just one week ago, the county surpassed 2 million total COVID-19 cases, with the figure reaching 2,289,045 cases as of Monday.

“On this national holiday where we celebrate the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, we remember his deep commitment to health equity.  As Reverend King memorably said, ‘Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health is the most shocking and the most inhuman because it often results in physical death,’ ” said Dr. Barbara Ferrer, Director of Public Health.

“Tragically, we have seen this play out in real life and very clearly over the past two years with the disparate impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on people of color. From the onset of the pandemic, communities of color have experienced the greatest devastation from COVID-19 in Los Angeles County and throughout the nation,” she added.

“The good news is that while hospitalizations continue to climb, Public Health data shows that many positive cases are admitted for reasons other than COVID but, are identified with COVID when tested for COVID upon hospital admission,” the health department said in a statement released last week.

As of Friday, more than 80% of all adult ICU beds in the county were occupied.

There are also 27 new deaths due to COVID-19 in Los Angeles County and 31,576 new positive cases.

The public health department also noted that while the number of children hospitalized with the virus remains low, the number of them admitted to L.A. County hospitals “significantly increased” over the past month, with the largest increase among children younger than 5 years old.

The increase mirrors trends seen nationwide for the age group — the only one not yet eligible for the vaccine.

The county also saw its highest coronavirus death rate in nearly 10 months over this past week, with an average of 40 COVID-19 deaths a day.

“From the onset of the pandemic, communities of color have experienced the greatest devastation from COVID-19 in Los Angeles County and throughout the nation. As we continue to implement strategies – enforcing worker protections through our Health Officer Orders, providing resources needed by many to survive the impact of the pandemic, funding community-based organizations in hard hit areas to serve as trusted public health messengers, and increasing vaccination access in under-sourced neighborhoods – we also need to come together to address the impact that racism, historical disinvestment, and social marginalization have on COVID-19 outcomes,” Ferrer said.

“While these conditions predate the pandemic, without deliberate collective actions to address the root causes of health inequities, we are unlikely to close the gaps we have documented for 2 long years,” she added.

California has recorded more than 7 million coronavirus cases after its fastest accumulation of reported infections in the history of the pandemic, the Los Angeles Times reported.

The unprecedented count, recorded in California’s databases late Monday, comes one week after the state tallied its 6 millionth coronavirus case.

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Coronavirus

Los Angeles County surpasses 2 million COVID cases

While hospitalizations continue to climb, Public Health data shows that many positive cases are admitted for reasons other than COVID

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Los Angeles Blade file photo

LOS ANGELES – Los Angeles County health officials are urging residents to postpone nonessential gatherings and avoid some activities – especially those that will include people who are unmasked, unvaccinated or at higher risk of severe COVID-19 illness.

This comes as Los Angeles County recorded a grim milestone Monday as the Department of Public Health reports that the County has now confirmed more than 2 million total cases of COVID-19 since the beginning of the pandemic. 

The Los Angele Times reported early Tuesday that hundreds of thousands of Los Angeles Unified students returned to campus from winter break Tuesday morning amid a record-breaking surge in coronavirus cases.

As they stood in long lines to enter campus, the district’s health-screening system crashed. These conditions, including staffing shortages, student absences, and apprehensive parents and students, put the district’s carefully laid plans to open campuses in the nation’s second-largest school district to the test.

Although some students and parents were anxious amid the Omicron surge, they said they wanted to be back in the classroom. District leaders said strict campus safely precautions are in place, the Times reported.

The surge, which has now created uncertainty in the business community as some restaurants and other retail operations close up due to staffing shortages or out of caution, prompted County Public Health to ask that residents postpone nonessential gatherings just ahead of the long Martin Luther King Jr. Day holiday weekend.

Public Health officials are also concerned as LA-based Super Bowl is a mere month away. The recommendation is voluntary and officials have not imposed any new restrictions that could put any events in jeopardy.

The latest Public Health data shows vaccines are still the best way to protect against the coronavirus. In L.A. County cases have continued to increase rapidly across all groups however at significantly lower levels for vaccinated individuals. For the week ending December 25th, case rates were much higher for those unvaccinated. There were 991 new cases per 100,000 unvaccinated; 588 cases per 100,000 fully vaccinated without boosters; and 254 cases per 100,000 fully vaccinated with boosters.

The vaccine also continues to provide very strong protection against hospitalization and death. One way to evaluate the protection offered by vaccines is rate ratios. These ratios compare rates of an outcome in unvaccinated people with rates of the same outcome in fully vaccinated people. The higher the rate ratio, the more protective the vaccine is against the outcome.

The hospital rate ratio was 9 when comparing those unvaccinated vs those fully vaccinated without boosters, meaning a 9-fold higher rate of hospitalization for the unvaccinated compared to this protected group. More markedly, the hospital rate ratio was 38 when comparing the unvaccinated vs fully vaccinated with boosters, meaning those fully vaccinated and boosted were 38 times less likely to be hospitalized than those unvaccinated.

“With surging transmission and rapidly rising cases and hospitalizations, our already understaffed health care providers are under enormous strain as they try to care for so many COVID infected people,” Barbara Ferrer, L.A. County Health Director said.

About 14% of the patients with COVID-19 were in the ICU, and 7% were on a ventilator.

“The good news is that while hospitalizations continue to climb, Public Health data shows that many positive cases are admitted for reasons other than COVID but, are identified with COVID when tested for COVID upon hospital admission,” the LA County Public Health Department said in a news release.

“However, at the moment, vaccinations alone are not sufficient to get us back to slowing the spread.  We all need to exercise more caution in the weeks ahead.  One effective strategy for reducing transmission is to wear a high-quality mask whenever around non-household members,” Ferrer said.

“Given the dominance of the highly infectious Omicron variant, well-fitting masks provide a great layer of protection to both the wearer and all those nearby. It is also time to pause those non-essential activities where people are unmasked and in close contact with others. The reality is that parties and events, especially those indoors, make it easy for the virus to spread. Limiting our time with others to those more essential work or school activities is a prudent action for us to take when-ever possible until the surge subsides,” she added.

COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective and are recommended for everyone 5 years old and older to help protect against COVID-19. Vaccinations are always free and open to eligible residents and workers regardless of immigration status. Appointments are not needed at all Public Health vaccination sites and many community sites where first, second, and third doses are available. 

To find a vaccination site near you, or to make an appointment, please visit:

www.VaccinateLACounty.com (English) or www.VacunateLosAngeles.com (Spanish). 

If you need assistance, you can also call 1-833-540-0473 for help: 

  • Finding an appointment
  • Connect to free transportation to and from a vaccination site, or 
  • Schedule a home visit if you are homebound. 

For more information regarding COVID-19 in LA County you can also visit the Public Health website at www.publichealth.lacounty.gov 

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