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LA County's Public Health Director: 'I Don't Think We're Going Too Fast'

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A man walks through the Citadel Outlets today in a face mask as the mall reopened. (Chava Sanchez/LAist)
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Tonight we got to ask L.A. County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer a question that's been on the minds of many of us: What's behind the much faster pace at which the county is now moving to reopen?

Here are key takeaways from Nick Roman's conversation with Ferrer on our newsroom's All Things Considered, which airs on 89.3 KPCC.


Roman:

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It's been two months of shutdowns. The reopening timeline for L.A. County, at least to my eyes, seems to be moving now at a much quicker pace than what we were looking at even a couple weeks ago. I mean the counties applied for a variance to reopen businesses like hair salons, barbershops and dine-in restaurants.

You've said these decisions are based on data, but how are the financial and business stresses handled when you and the county officials talk about what the next step should be?

Ferrer:

I think as much as three weeks ago, we laid out a recovery roadmap for the county and we had, you know, our stages, two through five. We were pretty deliberate in assessing what we thought were lower risk sectors for reopening in Stage Two, and then slightly more moderate risk sectors for opening in Stage Three and then higher risk sectors obviously in Stage Four.

I think, the way we've been reopening in this phased-in approach has really acknowledged that it's time to think about moving forward with the reopening of those lower-risk sectors because we're in Stage Two and our data remains positive, in the sense that:

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  • Hospitalizations have dropped significantly
  • Deaths are slightly down and continue to be slightly lower than they were even as recently as a week and a half ago
  • Our positivity rate is down, in terms of the percent of people who are testing positive after being tested for COVID-19

These are all indicators of the excellent work that everyone has done in this county over the last couple of months. For the first time, we do see some declining numbers and have for the last week, week and a half.

So, we're well-positioned to enter into the recovery phase.

I don't think we're going too fast. I think we have to be mindful of aligning with the state as the state reopens. It's easiest on all of us if, wherever possible, the county can move in alignment with the state and I think that's what we've done.


Ferrer went on to say that the county has applied for a variance that would allow more activities to reopen under the state plan and said they hoped to hear soon.

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A "yes," she said, would then allow for "in-person dining at restaurants, again with some significant modifications, and the opening, with modifications, of hair salons and barbershops."

She said they'd be watching closely as significantly more people — millions, in fact — are out and about. But she said she believed spikes in infections and deaths can be avoided.

"If we all do this sensibly, we all do our part, we take care of each other, we wear our face cloth coverings, we keep our distance," she said, "it's possible for us to continue making progress on the recovery. We have every indication that this is a county where people do what's right, because that's the only way we got to where we are."

"I think it's hard now, as we move forward, for us to remember we still have to do what's right. But I think if we do what's right, we open carefully — and by that I mean we adhere to the protocols that are listed as conditions for the reopening — we stand a good chance like everybody else of continuing to make progress on slowing the spread. And that's why I'm in the game."

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