By Alejandra Reyes-Velarde, Ruben Vives And Laura Newberry
Tribune News Service
LOS ANGELES — Mayor Eric Garcetti on Sunday admonished Angelenos who haven’t taken orders to practice social distancing seriously, announcing the closure of the city’s golf courses, parking lots at Venice Beach and organized group sports at city parks as they have continued to attract throngs of people.
“This weekend we saw too many images of too many people crowding beaches or canyons beyond their capacity. Too many people, too close together, too often,” Garcetti said during his daily briefing on the impact of the novel coronavirus.
“The longer we do that, the more people will get sick, and the more people will die. There’s no way to sugarcoat that.”
Starting Monday, parking lots near Venice Beach and the boardwalk will be closed, he said. In Santa Monica, the city also decided to close its beach parking lots.
The measures build on Gov. Gavin Newsom’s sweeping order, issued Thursday, urging Californians to stay home — with a few exceptions — and put distance between themselves and others to slow the spread of COVID-19.
Garcetti issued similar orders last week, which have closed most businesses in the city.
“It doesn’t mean it’s time to find another place to get together. This is serious,” Garcetti said on Sunday. “Six feet matters. There are no exceptions to that rule unless you are a first responder or a critical worker. None.”
Also on Sunday, the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority said it was closing all of its parks and trails, which include the parkland owned by the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy. Access roads and parking lots also will be closed.
Many were packed over the weekend, as people — eager to get out of the house and into the warm weather after days of rain — flocked to the outdoor destinations.
While L.A. beaches have yet to close, Garcetti said he will continue to work with the mayors of beach communities and county officials to assess whether they should stay open.
Asked by a reporter whether the city would hold residents accountable for breaking quarantine orders, Garcetti said law enforcement officers will “not be shy” when it comes to approaching those who are seen doing so.
“It is a misdemeanor,” he said. “It is something we can enforce.”
Garcetti also announced an online portal for COVID-19 testing that is set to launch this week. There will be an initial rollout of tests for “the most vulnerable Angelenos,” including those who are 65 or older and those with underlying health conditions, he said.
Residents who meet these criteria and also have experienced symptoms of COVID-19 will be directed to a local testing center, Garcetti said. He did not specify how many tests will be available.
“We ask for everybody’s patience as we ramp this up,” he said. “Once we do, I hope to expand this (testing) capacity every single day as much as we can.”
To help cities in California beef up their response to the pandemic, President Trump on Sunday approved a request from Newsom to declare a major disaster and for the federal government to provide “mass care,” emergency aid, unemployment assistance and disaster legal services.
The president said the Federal Emergency Management Agency would ship mobile hospital units to California within the next 48 hours. The state is in line to get eight of these units, for a total of 2,000 beds.
The Navy hospital ship the USNS Mercy, which is based in San Diego, will be deployed to Los Angeles. The ship can be stationed in the city in “a week or less,” FEMA Administrator Peter Gaynor said.
Though its facilities will not be used to treat COVID-19 patients, it will accept patients with other medical issues in an attempt to relieve the burden on hospitals, Gaynor said.
Meanwhile, Garcetti urged L.A. residents with disposable income to donate to the city’s emergency crisis response fund, which will help pay for child care for medical workers, grants for families and individuals who need financial assistance and meals for seniors.
Los Angeles County health officials on Sunday confirmed one more coronavirus death, bringing the total to five. They also reported 71 new cases in the county, with the total now 409. There were 132 new cases reported over the weekend. The number of coronavirus deaths statewide stands at 30.
Nevertheless, many L.A. County residents on Sunday behaved as if they weren’t living amid a global pandemic or subject to strict quarantine measures. At Long Beach’s sun-drenched San Junipero Beach, groups of basketball players used all three hoops. Men did pull-ups on the outdoor exercise machines, and women exercised on the grass while bikers, joggers and in-line skaters flitted past.
A family of three, all wearing masks, took a walk along the shore. A lone fisherman waded knee-deep in the water with his family nearby.
When he felt a tug, he called two children nearby to help pull the line. Strangers, including the family, gathered to see the spectacle up close.
Besides the occasional mask and glove-wearer, it seemed to be a normal Sunday, despite numerous countywide and citywide orders to stay indoors.
Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia expressed frustration at his fellow residents for not following his guidance.
“Seriously people, you need to practice social distancing,” he tweeted on Friday. “I am seeing tons of people out there acting like there’s no crisis.”
On Sunday night, Garcia announced the closure of Long Beach’s public basketball, tennis and volleyball courts, as well as its dog parks, playgrounds and skate parks. Earlier in the weekend, many insisted they needed time outdoors in order to maintain their sanity.
Clifford Aquino and Ryan Castro, both 28, couldn’t go to their gyms in Cerritos, as they had closed under government orders. So they decided to go to Long Beach instead, where there are plenty of outdoor gyms and paths for running.
“This is only Day Two,” Castro said. “It sucks.”
“It does suck, but you have to find different ways to stay active,” Aquino replied.
Aquino said he feels safe using the machines because he’s able to keep a safe distance from others. If one area is too busy, he finds another, he said.
He wipes down each machine with a Lysol wipe before using it.
At the Home Depot in Paramount on Sunday, there was no shortage of hardware items — just parking spaces. The lot was packed with shoppers eager to take on home renovation projects while they stay indoors.
Day laborers stood around, hoping to land a job. Some approached shoppers, asking if they wanted help.
Under Newsom’s orders, Californians are still permitted to visit hardware stores, which are considered essential businesses along with grocery stores and cannabis dispensaries. Shoppers picked up and examined vegetable plants and fruit trees in the garden center.
They stood in narrow lines just inches apart from one another, waiting to pay.
Inside, nearly every aisle was bustling.
Elvis Smith, 44, was in search of a wall heater to install at his South L.A. home. He wore a paint respirator and black latex gloves.
Smith said he was surprised to see so many people at the store, many of whom were not practicing social distancing.
“This is why I’m wearing this,” he said of his respirator. “I don’t want to be standing next to someone who sneezes and I may get it.”
Back in Long Beach, worshipers gathered by a white statue of the Virgin Mary outside the Sagely Monastery on Ocean Boulevard.
Donald Armstrong, 72, wore a surgical mask as he sat in a folding chair away from the mass of people. He didn’t touch or even stand near the statue for fear of contracting the virus.
He knew of the state and local orders to remain indoors, but he wanted to come and see the Virgin Mary, which he has done occasionally for seven years.
Armstrong said he has watched some people remove face masks to kiss the statue. He knows they’re doing so because they believe it will protect them, but he doesn’t think it’s a good time for such rituals.
“It’s great to have a strong faith like that,” Armstrong said. “But I still believe God has given people common sense. These people are taking a risk.”