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LA Could Soon Escape State’s Most Restrictive Shutdown Tier

LOS ANGELES, CA — In a sign of the light at the end of the tunnel, Los Angeles County health officials said the region is on track to emerge from the most restrictive tier of the state’s coronavirus economic-reopening roadmap within the next few weeks.

Angelenos just have a little more work to do to help get the number of new coronavirus cases a little lower, Los Angeles County’s public health director said.

“My hope is that in the next few weeks we get to Tier 2” of the state’s reopening matrix, Barbara Ferrer told the county Board of Supervisors.

It will depend on whether the county can reduce its average rate of new cases per 100,000 residents from 7.6 to below 7. If the county can get there, it can advance out of the restrictive “purple” Tier 1 and into the slightly more liberal “red” Tier 2. As always seems to be the case, there are events and holidays on the horizon that could prove to be hurdles. On Tuesday, the state followed the county’s lead in advising against trick or treating on Halloween this year. Ongoing protests, demonstrations and postseason NBA and MLB gatherings could lead to an uptick in new cases.

Ferrer told the board that reducing the number of new cases will take continued action from residents, some of whom have contributed to recent upticks thanks to large gatherings held in spite of public health orders barring them. She reiterated earlier guidance from health officials suggesting that residents balance their daily risk of exposure by limiting their activities outside the home. She suggested, as an example, that if a person goes to a grocery store during the day, that person should consider staying home for dinner instead of visiting a restaurant that same day.

Large gatherings, however, have continued to vex efforts to control the spread of the virus. Health officials on Monday said the tens of thousands of people who attended a pro-Armenian march in the Mid City area on Sunday may have been exposed to the virus, and should now be avoiding others for the next 14 days and get tested for COVID-19. The same applies to the hundreds of people who flocked to downtown Los Angeles Sunday night to celebrate the Lakers’ NBA championship.

Ferrer also told the board that businesses must continue to adhere to health protocols as they welcome back customers, noting that the county has generally seen good compliance.

On Tuesday, the county reported another 18 coronavirus deaths, while health officials in Long Beach announced three additional fatalities. The new deaths increased the countywide total since the start of the pandemic to 6,793.

The county also announced 790 newly confirmed cases of the virus, while Long Beach added 40 and Pasadena reported three. Those cases lifted the overall cumulative total since the pandemic began to 283,793.

The county Department of Public Health noted that Tuesday’s number of new cases was likely artificially low due to reporting lags from

As pandemic restrictions on indoor shopping ease, mall owners sue to stop another shutdown

ARCADIA, CA - OCTOBER 07, 2020 - Shoppers walk past a "Sanitize on the Go," station to keep shoppers safe from coronavirus at the Westfield Santa Anita shopping mall in Arcadia on October 7, 2020. This is the first day customers return to indoor shopping after Los Angeles County eases restrictions and have reopened the malls and the individual stores. Such stores have been closed for weeks, but reopened Wednesday at 25% capacity. Westfield Santa Anita has placed Covid-related signage with one-way traffic, 6 feet distancing when waiting to get into individual stores, hand sanitizing stations and mask are required before entering the mall. (Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)
Shoppers walk past a “Sanitize on the Go,” station at the Westfield Santa Anita shopping mall in Arcadia. (Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

Indoor shopping centers opened Wednesday as Los Angeles County officials eased pandemic-related restrictions on businesses, but one of the biggest mall operators in the region is suing to stop the county from shutting down centers again.

The owners of Westfield-branded malls, Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield, filed a proposed class action lawsuit against the county in late September that called for the county to lift prohibitions it called “unlawful and unjustifiable” in part because they are targeted at indoor centers, which were then mostly closed.

Although the county gave the green light to indoor mall stores operating with limits on the number of customers who can be inside, Westfield is suing in federal court to stop officials from repeatedly opening and closing stores to blunt the impact of the pandemic.

Gov. Gavin Newsom has likened such openings and closings of businesses to a dimmer switch that the state can raise or lower in relation to the transmission of COVID-19. When fewer new cases are diagnosed, restrictions on occupancy of stores, restaurants and other businesses will be loosened. If more people get sick, restrictions will retighten.

En Route Institute book store opens as customers return to indoor shopping at Westfield Santa Anita.
Frank Capurro opens the En Route Institute bookstore as customers return to indoor shopping at the Westfield Santa Anita shopping mall in Arcadia on Oct. 7. (Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

Los Angeles County has lagged behind other parts of California in reopening businesses because of its continued high numbers of new cases and deaths. But on Wednesday, “nonessential” stores in indoor shopping centers reopened with limited capacity for the first time since July.

Westfield and the owner of Del Amo Fashion Center, a regional indoor mall in Torrance, have both filed lawsuits intended to stop the county from effectively shutting down their shopping centers as a coronavirus prevention measure. Merchants including a sports apparel seller and a children’s clothing boutique operator have joined the lawsuits.

The county has not commented on the litigation, but its public information office said in a statement last month that the county “has been intensely committed to protecting the health and safety of its residents through an unprecedented crisis using science and data and responding in real time to a deadly and previously unknown virus that has tragically claimed thousands of lives and upended life for millions of people.”

County officials continue “to assess the data, the science and the state guidelines to safely guide the reopening” of local businesses, the statement said.

Jean-Marie Tritant, president of U.S. operations, Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield
Jean-Marie Tritant, president of U.S. operations, Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield (Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield)

In an interview with The Times, Jean-Marie Tritant, president of U.S. operations for Paris-based Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield, discussed his company’s litigation and efforts to conduct business prudently during the pandemic. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Your company has been in discussions with state and local officials since the early days of the pandemic about how to operate safely in a dangerous time. What