On March 24, Eric Garcetti, the mayor of Los Angeles, began his COVID-19 briefing by sharing that the virus had taken its first teenage life in Los Angeles County. Then, like his colleague Lori Lightfoot in Chicago, he felt the need to point out that the actions of individuals impact lives. “Your behavior can save a life and take a life,” Garcetti said. Is that not true all the time? Before anyone had ever heard of COVID-19, didn’t the actions of individuals potentially take and save lives? Actually, is that not the very argument made regularly by opponents of gun control—that it is the actions of individuals that make the difference, not the gun? But I digress…
During the same briefing, Garcetti said that the “Safer at Home” restrictions would not be extended “one day longer than we need to.” Keep that in mind, as we will come back to it.
Garcetti then deployed some beautiful political doublespeak, announcing a “business ambassadors” program. Sounds great, right? The point of the program was to identify and shame non-essential businesses that had not shut down. Calling the behavior of such business owners “irresponsible and selfish,” Garcetti announced that the Department of Water and Power would shut down services to businesses that did not comply. Furthermore, neighborhood prosecutors would implement safety measures. Businesses would receive a warning first, but misdemeanor penalties, citations and fines were all possibilities that Garcetti left on the table. “You know who you are. You need to stop it,” Garcetti blustered. “This is your chance to step up and to shut it down, because if you don’t, we will shut you down.”
Strangely, Garcetti also announced that restaurants and bars would be permitted, as a means of stimulating business, deliver alcohol. Funny how alcohol was deemed essential, given that there is literally nothing essential about alcohol in any definition of “essential” that has been used in these COVID-19 crackdowns. Funny how Garcetti was interested in stimulating business while saying, out the other side of his mouth, that business owners who were operating were going to have services for which they were paying shut down.
By the way, this was all announced at a time when Los Angeles County had all of 669 confirmed cases of COVID-19 with a mortality rate of 1.6% and California as a whole had a mortality rate of 1.9%. So how has Garcetti responded in the weeks since?
On April 5, Garcetti told the Associated Press that he was considering requiring people to stay mostly in their neighborhoods, rather than travel longer distances for shopping and exercise. In a press conference the next day he admitted how un-American such action would be, and used that as way to try to scare Angelenos into voluntarily restricting their movements. “We can’t yet do that, nor do we have an enforcement mechanism, nor are we a country where, thankfully, we monitor people’s cell phones or where they are all the time and I don’t think we’re gonna do that anytime soon,” Garcetti said. If any mayor, anywhere in the United States, had floated such a possibility in January, February, even the first week of March, they would have been laughed at and ignored. Unless they were impeached!
By mid-April, LA County has over 8,400 cases and a mortality rate of 2.9%. By that point the county’s beaches, piers, bike path and trailheads had been closed and anyone going to an essential business, either as an employee or as a patron, was required to wear a mask. Per Garcetti’s order, businesses would be permitted to deny service to customers not wearing masks or some covering of the mouth and nose.
On May 4, California governor Gavin Newsom, who has been rather tyrannical in his own right, announced that COVID restrictions would begin to be eased in California. Not so fast, responded Garcetti. Newsom “isn’t talking to all of us in exactly the same way” he announced, and he—Garcetti—would lift restrictions in Los Angeles when he was good and ready. “I will reopen our city with careful consideration, guided by the advice of public health professionals. What we should all ready ourselves for, is the new normal, no matter what is open or closed.”
Earlier this week, at a Board of Supervisors meeting, Barbara Ferrer, the Los Angeles Public Health Director, said “with all certainty” that the county’s stay-at-home order would be extended into July. Garcetti said that did not necessarily meant that the restrictions would look the same way they do today for the duration of that time, but that the city could not fully resume normal activities until a vaccine has been developed for COVID-19.
If he is serious about that, I suspect Los Angeles will see either mass protests against the Safer at Home restrictions or a mass exodus of people fleeing LA, because the likelihood of a vaccine in the near future is slim. Just days ago the Mayo Clinic said that while the development of a vaccine is “perhaps the best hope for ending the pandemic” the medical professionals “don’t know yet whether an effective vaccine is possible for this virus.” And if it is possible? “Realistically,” the Mayo Clinic report stated, “a vaccine will take 12 to 18 months or longer to develop and test in human clinical trials” and then, if a successful vaccine is developed, “it will take time to produce, distribute and administer to the global population.”
If Eric Garcetti thinks people in LA are going to sit back and wait for that to happen, he’s got another thing coming. Instead of “Safer at Home” many Angelenos will likely decide they will be “Safer Somewhere Else.”
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