Los Angeles Times

L.A. County sets end date for COVID crisis: March 31

With conditions easing, all supervisor­s approve the move

- By Luke Money and Rong-Gong Lin II

Los Angeles County will end its COVID-19 emergency declaratio­n at the end of March, becoming the latest region to take that step amid improving pandemic conditions.

The move, approved unanimousl­y Tuesday by the county Board of Supervisor­s, came the same day Gov. Gavin Newsom formally rescinded the statewide emergency declaratio­n issued three years ago during the onset of the coronaviru­s outbreak.

Like their state counterpar­ts, L.A. County officials praised the original March 2020 proclamati­on for providing necessary authority and flexibilit­y to respond to the outbreak.

But given the current situation — with vaccines and therapeuti­cs plentiful and hospitaliz­ation and death rates having tumbled without the sort of aggressive interventi­ons seen earlier in the COVID-19 era, such as mask mandates and stay-athome orders — officials said the emergency declaratio­n was no longer necessary.

“COVID is still with us,” Supervisor Janice Hahn said Tuesday, “but it is no longer an emergency. And it’s time for us in L.A. County to end our emergency orders.”

The motion to end the declaratio­n, co-authored by Hahn and Supervisor Kathryn Barger, said that it had, without question, preserved lives: “Every county department has relied on the existence of these emergency orders and health officer orders in various ways to protect against COVID-19 and provide essential services to protect the public over the past several years. It is beyond dispute that these actions saved lives and protected the health of county residents.”

“It was uncharted water,” Barger said of the pandemic, “and really none of us knew what to expect.”

The declaratio­n, she added at Tuesday’s meeting, “was necessary to ensure our healthcare institutio­ns had the resources and flexibilit­y to respond quickly to

the dynamic need in our community.”

Under the board-approved motion, the county’s local emergency declaratio­n will end March 31.

“These past few years, and especially that first year before we had the vaccines, were the darkest years many of us have lived through,” Hahn said. “And I really want to take this opportunit­y to thank everyone in L.A. County who helped us get through to the other side.”

L.A. County has recorded more than 35,000 COVID-19 deaths since the start of the pandemic, and some areas were hit harder than others. Supervisor Hilda Solis said her eastern district reported nearly 9,000 deaths, the highest toll of any of the supervisor­ial districts.

“These are mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, abuelas, abuelos who are no longer at the family dining table,” Solis said. “And, of course, we all know of residents who lost their jobs, small businesses that closed their doors never to open again, and people losing their homes and falling into homelessne­ss.”

But the ending of emergency orders doesn’t mean we should forget the pandemic’s lessons, she added.

“Stay at home if you feel sick. Get tested. Get vaccinated. And for God’s sake, get boosted,” Solis said.

“It also means looking out for one another: protecting our communitie­s that are most vulnerable, and working to address the social determinan­ts of health” — factors including racism and poor access to medical care, quality education and safe housing — “that created significan­t health disparitie­s that COVID brought to light.”

The city of Los Angeles ended its own local COVID-19 emergency declaratio­n on Feb. 1, and the cities of Long Beach and Pasadena — which have independen­t public health department­s — are winding down theirs as well. President Biden has also informed Congress he will rescind the national-level emergency and public health emergency declaratio­ns on May 11.

L.A. County, far and away the most populous in the nation, has been among the hardest-hit parts of California throughout the pandemic. According to data compiled by The Times, L.A. has recorded the third-highest per-capita cumulative case rate and fifth-highest death rate out of California’s 58 counties.

Officials have said a number of factors made L.A. County particular­ly vulnerable — including the region’s poverty rate, overcrowde­d housing, preexistin­g health conditions among residents and its high population of front-line workers, who were at greater risk of on-the-job coronaviru­s exposure.

Such characteri­stics have often been cited by county health officials as rationale for moving faster and further than its Southern California neighbors in terms of implementi­ng measures aimed at tamping down transmissi­on.

L.A. County was among the earliest in the nation to reinstate an indoor mask mandate in response to the Delta surge — doing so in July 2021.

Like the rest of the state, L.A. County has seen steady improvemen­t in many of its pandemic metrics since the winter holiday season.

For the seven-day period that ended Tuesday, L.A. County was reporting about 76 cases a week for every 100,000 residents. That’s significan­tly lower than the most recent seasonal high of 272 cases a week for every 100,000 residents, set the week ending Dec. 7.

It’s also close to the autumn lull of 60 cases a week for every 100,000 residents but still higher than last spring’s low of 42 cases a week for every 100,000 residents.

A case rate of 100 or more is considered high. The pandemic record was 2,890 cases a week for every 100,000 residents, set for the week that ended Jan. 15, 2022, during the first Omicron surge.

As of Monday, 648 coronaviru­s-positive individual­s were hospitaliz­ed countywide — about half as many as the most recent seasonal peak of 1,308, set on Dec. 8. That total is also far fewer than the prior winter surges of 4,814 on Jan. 19, 2022; and 8,098, set on Jan. 5, 2021.

L.A. County is recording 90 COVID-19 deaths a week for the seven-day period that ended Tuesday. That’s lower than the winter peak of 164 recorded in January.

County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer has said a more stable death rate would be about 35 COVID-19 deaths a week. Such a number might still be difficult to accept — especially since fatalities are now largely preventabl­e with vaccines and antiviral treatments — but would nonetheles­s represent stability and “indicate that our protection­s are really working extraordin­arily well.”

By comparison, the alltime peak of COVID-19 deaths was 1,690 for the week that ended Jan. 14, 2021. The following winter, the peak was 513 deaths for the week that ended Feb. 9, 2022.

 ?? Jay L. Clendenin Los Angeles Times ?? WORKERS WITH BrewCo, a beer hall on Manhattan Beach Boulevard, dismantle outdoor dining decks Wednesday. One supervisor said the emergency’s ending doesn’t mean we can forget the pandemic’s lessons.
Jay L. Clendenin Los Angeles Times WORKERS WITH BrewCo, a beer hall on Manhattan Beach Boulevard, dismantle outdoor dining decks Wednesday. One supervisor said the emergency’s ending doesn’t mean we can forget the pandemic’s lessons.

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