More than 70 citations have been issued over the past month in Los Angeles County to various businesses and organizations — most notably churches and gyms — for violating health restrictions imposed to control spread of COVID-19, but the county’s health officer said Thursday no closures have been ordered.
Dr. Muntu Davis said, however, that failures to adhere to the restrictions, particularly those barring many indoor business operations and worship services, can exacerbate virus spread.
“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.
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 Sunday.
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 that 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 and obtained 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.
In West Hollywood, the city’s Code Compliance Division has issued two citations to Pink Taco, the restaurant at 8225 Sunset Blvd., and one each to the Classic Cat restaurant at 8830 Sunset Blvd., Delilah at 7969 Santa Monica Blvd., Beaches at 8928 Santa Monica Blvd., and Formosa Café at 7156 Santa Monica Blvd. It also has cited Palm Beach Tan, at 8715 Santa Monica Blvd., for violating COVID-19 safety rules.
“The goal of the city’s code compliance program is to educate and gain voluntary compliance through verbal warnings and written warning notices prior to the issuance of administrative citations,” said Danny Rivas, head of the Code Compliance Division. “Overall the West Hollywood business community has been doing a great job in adapting and complying to the changing state and county health orders.”
To address issues of non-compliance, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors has instructed the county to develop a plan for “public health councils,” which would be made up of employees at a workplace and would work with other organizations certified by the Health Department to monitor, document, and report any violations of the public health guidelines. The Health Department would designate organizations with expertise in worker outreach and education in individual industries and geographic areas. It would allow workers to report, without fear of retribution, instances where their employer is failing to comply with orders issued by the L.A. County Health Department.
The West Hollywood Chamber of Commerce has stated its opposition to the public health council concept, arguing that it would be an additional burden on local business owners. The West Hollywood City Council on Monday adopted a proposal by Mayor Lindsey Horvath to have the city’s Code Compliance Division give a regular update to the city’s Business License Commission on local enforcement of public health orders and set up a public hearing process to review businesses not in compliance with the orders. Employees of those businesses would be able to speak out at the hearings about their concerns. However, the city’s measure doesn’t specify that they would be protected from retaliation by employers.
Dr. Davis declined to give any specifics on other punitive actions the county might pursue against repeat violators of the health orders, but he confirmed that “to date, none of them have been issued a closure order.”
But at a crucial time when health officials are fearing a post-Labor Day surge in cases — possibly evidenced by a recent rise in daily coronavirus case numbers and an increase in the overall transmission rate — Davis said infection-control measures are crucial for businesses and residents.
“We’re watching … if that (transmission rate) is going to continue to head up in that direction that it’s going at the moment, if it’s going to speed up or slow down,” he said. “But it’s always going to be a concern especially as we start to open up more and we have more people out and about, as we’ve seen in the past — in July when we had our spike and a number of things were open as well.
“But again, this goes back to what people do, what businesses do in terms of trying to reduce the transmission,” he said. “Those things can happen, but everybody has to adhere to the precautions that are needed in order to really slow the spread of this virus and allow us to do more than what we’re able to do right now.”
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 Wednesday, 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 Wednesday, 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 re-openings — most notably for nail salons, which were cleared by the state Tuesday 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 this week to determine case trends.
“We regularly speak with our public health director, whether its via email or phone conversations,” she said. “We will be having our meeting this coming Tuesday and we’ll be able to discuss some of these items, and they’re very, very — what could I say — concerning, because we know that we’re waiting to see data coming back after the Labor Day weekend, so I am very, very cautious of that.”
Public health director Barbara Ferrer confirmed Wednesday that the county currently meets the criteria to move up a tier in the state’s four-tier roadmap for business re-openings, 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 the four-day spike in daily case numbers last week.
“So we’re not sure that we’ll have another week where our adjusted daily case rate is at or below seven new cases per 100,000 residents,” she said. “But we are heartened that L.A. County has met the thresholds that allow us to see our progress and in the future move to tier two.”
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 Thursday, while Long Beach added 43 and Pasadena reported eight, lifting the countywide cumulative total since the start of the pandemic to 264,465. Another 39 coronavirus-related deaths were announced Thursday, although two of those fatalities were announced Wednesday afternoon by Long Beach health officials. Long Beach reported another three deaths Thursday. The new fatalities lifted the cumulative countywide death toll to 6,458.
A total of 753 people were hospitalized due to the virus as of Thursday — down slightly from Wednesday and sharply below the average of 2,200 patients that were reported in the weeks following the Fourth of July holiday.
As of today, the number of confirmed infections in West Hollywood has increased by one to a total of 557. The number of people in West Hollywood who have died of COVID-19 related illnesses as of today is five.
In Beverly Hills, the number of confirmed infections has increased by four to 677. The number of COVID-19 related deaths in Beverly Hills as of today was 12. The number of COVID-19 infection confirmed among Culver City residents has increased by one to 385. The number of deaths as of today remains at 29. The Health Department reports two newly confirmed infections in Hollywood, bringing its total to 1,183. The number of deaths remains at14. The Melrose neighborhoods latest count is up by four to 1,888. The number of COVID-19 related deaths remains at 70.
Public Health has a dedicated call line for confirmed cases of COVID-19. If you are positive for COVID-19 and have not yet connected with a public health specialist or need more information on services, call toll-free at 1 (833) 540-0473. Residents who do not have COVID-19 can continue to call 211 for resources or more information.
One way the virus can be transmitted is through a cough, a sneeze or even through air that comes from the mouth when someone talks. For that reason, residents must wear face coverings when out in public and can be cited for not doing so. The citations come with a $250 fine and a $50 administrative fee.
West Hollywood residents with questions about the COVID-19 pandemic or who are looking for resources to deal with it can find answers on the City of West Hollywood’swebsite. Here is a list of links to sections about particular subjects and issues: