New Years parties persist in LA County despite increasingly dire coronavirus situation – Daily News

on Jan2
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Despite repeated warnings and a new public awareness campaign highlighting the alarming death rates among Los Angeles County coronavirus patients — someone is dying every 10 minutes, health officials say — hundreds of people gathered in the parking lot of a Valencia church for a New Year’s Eve concert and worship service organized by evangelical Christian activist Sean Feucht.

On top of that, the county’s Sheriff’s Department arrested 90 people and warned more than 900 others for flaunting coronavirus safety protocols as officers shutdown five “super-spreader events” in the cities of Los Angeles, Hawthorne, Malibu and Pomona on New Year’s Eve, according to a Friday news release.

Meanwhile, Los Angeles County continues to see alarming increases in new coronavirus patients, hospitalizations and deaths, day after day with no sign of slowing. Health officials blame gatherings like these, as well as smaller functions in private residences.

Officials counted 20,414 new coronavirus cases on Friday, Jan. 1 and 207 newly reported deaths, though 40 were linked to a backlog in reporting, according to a county news release.

These figures do not include the latest statistics from Pasadena and Long Beach; both operate their own health departments, but neither had updated their respective dashboards at the time of publication.

Right now, there are 7,613 people hospitalized with COVID-19 in the county and 21% of those people are in intensive care units, according to county data.

The county has seen its seven-day positivity rate steadily increase since Dec. 26 when it was 18.2%. That’s a measure of the percentage of positive tests over the past week.

By itself, 18.2% is a significant increase compared to the single-digit positivity rate seen in the fall — but the number has only grown larger this week and now sits at 21.5% as of New Year’s Day.

The increasingly dire situation spurred the state to deploy Army experts as soon as Saturday, Jan. 2, to evaluate and upgrade oxygen system at six aging hospitals around the county, all overtaxed by an unprecedented surge of coronavirus patients with serious respiratory issues.

Those hospitals are:

  • Emanate Health Queen of the Valley Hospital in West Covina;
  • Mission Community Hospital in Panorama City;
  • Beverly Community Hospital in Montebello;
  • Lakewood Regional Medical Center in Lakewood; and
  • PIH Health Hospital in Downey.

In the latest statistics released by the state, Southern California is still operating with 0% capacity in its intensive care units, according to the state’s adjusted metrics. Officials are not offering a timeline for when the region may get out from the state’s stay-at-home order because ICU capacity is projected to stay below 15% for the next four weeks.

State officials reported 47,189 new cases as of Thursday, Dec. 31, and the state has seen nearly 2.3 million cases of coronavirus to date.

“We’re very concerned about people being able to get high-quality care in hospitals,” said Dr. Ying-Ying Goh, Pasadena’s public health director who spoke to this newsgroup on Friday, Jan. 1. “The burden that COVID has placed on our local hospitals, our regional hospitals and the system as a whole, is really putting us all at risk.”

Already, the county was seeing a “spike within a spike” from Thanksgiving-related travel, Goh said. Beginning this weekend and running through next week, we will start to see new cases — and then hospitalizations — from Christmas festivities. One week after that, the New Year’s Eve celebration spike will begin, she explained.

In a video posted to social media, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti again joined the chorus of health officials calling for the public to stay home during the holidays, reminding residents that healthcare workers were overwhelmed and calling for them to look forward to the vaccines and the celebrations that may follow once it’s safe to gather again.

Still, it didn’t take alarming numbers to get the stay-at-home message to stick for some.

L.A.’s iconic Pink’s Hot Dogs stand will be closing for two months beginning Sunday due to the region’s exploding case counts, the company said on its Twitter page.

The decision is meant “to keep our patrons and staff safe from the current COVID surge,” the post said.

The stand on La Brea Avenue near Melrose Avenue will remain open through 7 p.m. Sunday.

The legendary spot in Hollywood has been serving customers since 1939 and concluded its Twitter message with “See you in March. Please stay safe!”

Hollywood has also started making adjustments of its own, with multiple television studios temporarily halting production in Southern California, including Warner Bros., Universal, Disney, Showtime, ABC and CBS. Shows like “Shameless” and “You,” both expected to resume filming next week, have opted to halt production, Variety reported.

Other shows have stopped filming, including “Shameless,” “Brooklyn Nine-Nine,” “Black-ish,” “NCIS,” “Grey’s Anatomy,” and many others. Some are scheduled to resume filming on Jan. 11, according to a report from City News Service.

Filming concern

Los Angeles County public health officials urged production companies to “strongly consider” going on temporary hiatus amid a surge that has left hospitals struggling to keep up with coronavirus patients.

Film activity is permitted to continue — with safety protocols —under state and local COVID-19 health restrictions.

According to FilmLA, the nonprofit agency that coordinates film permitting in the Los Angeles area, health officials sent a letter to industry officials last week reminding them of the current surge in COVID cases and its impact on the emergency medical system.

While urging film companies to exercise caution, the letter asked industry leaders “to strong consider pausing work for a few weeks during this catastrophic surge in COVID cases. Identify and delay higher risk activities and focus on lower-risk work for now, if at all possible.”

FilmLA was also asked by health officials to remind industry officials that “travel for production purposes is currently not advised.” Despite such travel technically being permitted under health restrictions, such activity makes it “more likely that people will end up together in vehicles or indoors in less-controlled settings,” according to the letter.

Maskless worshipers attend Christian singer Sean Feucht’s gathering at Echo Park Lake in Los Angeles on Thursday, December 31, 2020 where a large group of homeless people live. (Photo by Sarah Reingewirtz, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

More worries over gatherings

The rising case and death rates, while they may have spooked some, didn’t appear to concern the hundreds who gathered at the church in Valencia for Feucht’s New Year’s Eve concert.

The evangelical performer has repeatedly ignored public health directives by holding events that critics have decried as potential super-spreader events for the coronavirus, including a Thursday morning musical and homeless-outreach gathering at Echo Park Lake.

At least 500 people responded to a post on Feucht’s Facebook page that they would attend the Thursday night event at Higher Vision Church, located at 28776 The Old Road in Valencia, and another 1,200 people said they were interested in the concert and worship service. It was unclear if those who responded planned to physically attend or watch online.

In a post on social media, the Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff’s Station stated it “has been notified of a religious event taking place (Thursday) with potential large crowds. We are aware & will be monitoring the event.”

In a YouTube video posted with the script “Claiming the coast of California for JESUS!!! #LetUsWorship,” Feucht was with his family on the beach when he said, “We are launching into this epic two days together … as we join with thousands from across America in person — and online,” leaving a deliberate pause between “in person” and “online.”

Feucht said he’s “excited to party in the New Year together” with surprises planned at midnight and celebrate the New Year “by seeing God break out in Los Angeles,” noting that “God is not finished with California.”

Garcetti said Wednesday night Los Angeles police and county public health officials would be monitoring Feucht’s activities, indicating the city is powerless to completely stop them, which are being held under the guise of a religious event.

But Garcetti urged Feucht and his followers to cancel the events.

“There are constitutionally protected rights, both religion and protest, which clearly he has used and exercised, but just because we do have the right to do things, doesn’t mean it’s the right thing to do,” Garcetti said. “So I would encourage him first and foremost to come back, have a good concert after this pandemic is done.

“We do not want to see this (virus) spread, and the more spread there is, the more hospitalizations, the more deaths, so if you care about human lives, and what God has given each of us, which is the power of life, please don’t do this.”

Staff writer Nick Green and City News Service contributed to this report

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