County issues 70 citations for pandemic violations

Wave Wire Services

LOS ANGELES — More than 70 citations have been issued over the past month to various businesses and organizations — most notably churches and gyms — for violating health restrictions imposed to control the spread of COVID- 19, although no closures have been ordered.

But Dr. Muntu Davis, Los Angeles County’s health officer, said that failures to adhere to the restrictions, particularly those barring many indoor business operations and worship services, can exacerbate the spread of the virus.

Not just for us in terms of public health but others who are watching and monitoring the spread of this virus and trying to do everything we can to control it, it is concerning when we don’t have compliance with the measures that are needed in order to slow the spread of this within our county,” Davis said in an online media briefing Sept. 24.

As we go through, we continue to look at all options that might be available to us,” he said. “Of course, I can’t go into a lot of details on each case, but [we] continue to try to build what we need to in terms of getting compliance from everyone. This is really what’s needed at this point. Everybody has to do what they need to do in order to slow it down.”

According to figures posted on the county Department of Public Health website, 71 citations were issued “due to lack of compliance with health officer orders” between Aug. 29 and Sept. 20.

Several businesses were cited multiple times over that period, including a Coast Fitness facility in Hawthorne, which was cited at least four times; various locations of Crunch Fitness, including those in Cerritos, La Mirada and Lancaster; and Powerhouse Gym in Torrance, which was cited at least five times.

Multiple churches are also on the list, including Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, which the county took to court, obtaining an injunction to bar the facility from holding indoor worship services. According to the county, the church has been cited three times since the court order was issued on Sept. 10.

Davis said health officials will be closely watching this week’s case numbers to determine if Labor Day resulted in rapid spread of the virus through public or private gatherings.

On Sept. 23, the county reported a disturbing increase in the local virus transmission rate — the average number of people a coronavirus patient infects with the illness. That number had been steadily declining, dropping below the critical threshold of 1.0, but on Sept. 23 it rose to 1.02.

Health officials have said that keeping the transmission rate below 1 is critical to slowing the spread of the virus.

Concerns about post-Labor Day case numbers also have the county reticent to move ahead with any new business reopenings — most notably for nail salons, which were cleared by the state earlier this week to resume indoor operations. The county, however, has yet to authorize them to reopen locally, and county Supervisor Hilda Solis expressed hesitance to do so until more data are collected to determine case trends.

Public health director Barbara Ferrer confirmed that the county currently meets the criteria to move up a tier in the state’s four-tier roadmap for business reopenings, thanks to a current average testing-positivity rate of just 2.8% and a new daily case rate of seven per 100,000 residents.

But those statistics, which are used by the state to classify counties in the appropriate tier, are based on data collected the week of Sept. 6-12 before the county saw a four-day increase in daily case numbers the following week.

The county is in the most restrictive “purple” tier of the state’s matrix. Moving up to tier two, or the “red” tier, would allow more businesses to reopen, including movie theaters, with capacity limits and other restrictions.

The county announced 1,165 new cases Sept. 24, lifting the countywide cumulative total since the start of the pandemic to 264,465.

Another 39 coronavirus-related deaths were announced that day, lifting the countywide death toll to 6,458.

A total of 753 people were hospitalized due to the virus as of Sept. 24 — down slightly from the day before and sharply below the average of 2,200 patients that were reported in the weeks following the Fourth of July holiday.