The resurgence of the coronavirus in California is not yet showing signs of abating and state and city officials are prepared to re-close even more of the economy if things don’t start to improve.
“We have our finger on the dimmer switch and we’re not afraid to use it,” Mark Ghaly, California’s secretary of Health and Human Services, said during a Tuesday briefing.
Last week, the state re-closed indoor operations of most businesses, including malls, restaurants and hair salons and barbers, in counties that represent more than 70 percent of the state’s population. Most of those businesses had only a few weeks of being allowed to open again, as cases of the coronavirus started to dramatically increase. At the current rate, it will only be a matter of days before California surpasses 400,000 positive cases of the virus, meaning it will top New York as the state with the most cases in the U.S.
Ghaly couched that inevitably as partly due to California being the largest and most populous state in the country, but admitted that it may take up to five weeks to see cases of the virus start to decrease again due to the reclosures and the month-old state mandate on wearing masks in public.
“I wish I had the crystal ball that said this is when we’re going to be ready [to lift restrictions again],” Ghaly said.
As for some businesses in the state, particularly in Los Angeles, like garment factories and food processing plants that have been deemed essential throughout the crisis, Ghaly did not say they would be excepted from any further reclosing efforts.
Los Angeles has seen such a resurgence of the virus — which county data shows impacting Latinos at rate of nearly 10 to 1 compared with any other ethnic group in the county — that Mayor Eric Garcetti admitted on CNN on Sunday that he was weighing a second formal “stay-at-home” order. Essentially a public lockdown order, it would again direct all Angelenos to stay inside their homes save for essential trips out for things like groceries or to the bank. It would also close all businesses deemed nonessential, including most retail.
During a briefing on Monday, Garcetti and county health adviser Barbara Ferrer pointed to the public resuming summer activities and gatherings, showing a lack of seriousness regarding the virus, as well as workplaces not implementing necessary steps to prevent transmission. All of this, they said, has contributed to the rapid increase in spread in the county and the serious consideration of another stay-at-home order.
Factories and food plants have become potential hot spots for transmission among workers in L.A. Los Angeles Apparel, operated by American Apparel founder Dov Charney, was forced to shut down operations about two weeks ago after the L.A. factory (which has been making masks) was found to have 300 workers that contracted the virus, with four that died from it.
“We have an enforcement arm,” Ghaly said Tuesday. “For reports of noncompliance and an unwillingness to change, absolutely there will be an enforcement effort. At the end of that, there could be a shutting of a business.”
But very few other businesses have been reported as closed, despite OSHA receiving an increased number of complaints throughout the U.S. For CalOSHA, businesses are expected to self-report workers with cases of the coronavirus.
Enforcement of coronavirus safety mandates has been problematic in California and in several counties, like L.A., as officials have taken what they’ve called an “educational” approach. It favors information and assistance with compliance and then waiting for people and business to fall in line, over pursuing legal action and fines. The same method has been used for the public mandate on wearing masks and limits on gatherings in public, but even Ghaly admitted that “some people saw [the lifting of restrictions] as a pass to return to normal.”
Newsom admitted last week he was aware of some businesses not operating in compliance with coronavirus guidelines, but did not mention any closures. Businesses that continue to operate are supposed to do some basic things to keep workers safe, like ensuring mask wearing, physical distancing, sanitary conditions and proper access to hand washing stations.
Ghaly added that state health officials are currently working on a new playbook for certain business sectors, like factories that tend to only operate with hundreds of workers on rolling shifts, which will “augment some of the guidelines we’ve already put out.”
“One of the hardest things in these spaces is physical distancing,” Ghaly said. “But CalOSHA is working with some of the factories to ensure we reduce transmission.”