Health officials worried about Labor Day weekend

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Wave Wire Services

LOS ANGELES — With a decision still pending on the possible reopening of indoor shopping malls and hair salons, Los Angeles County health officials stepped up their campaign against public gatherings over the upcoming Labor Day holiday Sept. 1, despite downward coronavirus trends.

The county Department of Public Health reported another 45 deaths due to the virus, raising the overall total since the start of the pandemic to 5,830.

The county also announced another 840 new coronavirus cases — a rare dip below the 1,000 mark. The total number of cases since the pandemic began stood at 242,781.

According to the county, the seven-day average daily number of new cases has dropped to 1,300, continuing a steady decline. Health officials have been reporting downward trends in new cases, deaths and hospitalizations — with 1,057 people hospitalized with the virus as of Sept 1.

But while things are trending in the right direction, health officials continued what is likely to be a daily call for residents to avoid large gatherings over the upcoming holiday weekend, fearing a repeat of case spikes seen after the Memorial Day and Fourth of July weekends.

In a statement, the county Department of Public Health warned again that “it is important not to gather with people who aren’t part of your household as it puts you at risk for COVID-19.”

The county released a list of activities that are banned by the health officer orders, “even if they feel safe.” Those activities included baby showers, gender-reveal parties, backyard barbecues for Labor Day, student study groups, Rosh Hashanah or Yom Kippur dinners and “gathering with friends over the hot weekend.”

Health officials did not make any immediate announcements about the possibility of indoor shopping malls and hair salons being permitted to reopen.

County Supervisor Kathryn Barger said Aug. 31 that such an announcement could be made, but there were no immediate disclosures about changes in the health officer orders.

Under new guidelines from the state, indoor shopping malls can reopen with restrictions, including a 25% capacity limit, as can indoor hair salons and barbershops, also with restrictions. But even though the state allows those businesses to reopen, individual counties can maintain tighter restrictions, based on the local health situation.

As we look at the possibility of re-opening more businesses and, eventually, schools, there is a lot at stake,” county public health director Barbara Ferrer said in a statement. “Increased numbers of people being around one another can result in more transmission of COVID-19, at a time where we need to be doubling down on our efforts to slow the spread. Our past weekend inspections demonstrated that 20% of restaurants and 17% of markets are still not in compliance with the health officer orders. This does not help us get our numbers down.”

Hoping to address compliance issues at businesses, the Board of Supervisors Sept. 1 approved a motion calling for the creation of trained worker “health councils,” which will monitor companies’ adherence to health orders.

Health councils will strengthen our compliance system and allow concerned employees and community nonprofits to serve as additional ‘eyes and ears’ to help us contain the pandemic,” Supervisor Sheila Kuehl said. “We all need to pitch in to protect public safety and fight COVID-19.”

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