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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

Wisconsin business groups sue to keep COVID lists secret

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Three business groups filed a lawsuit Thursday seeking to block Gov. Tony Evers’ administration from releasing the names of more than 1,000 businesses with employees who have tested positive for COVID-19, saying the release would blacklist those operations as the disease surges across the state.

Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce along with the Muskego and New Berlin chambers of commerce filed the lawsuit in Waukesha County, a Republican stronghold. They allege that Evers is preparing to release on Friday a list of more than 1,000 businesses that have had two or more employees test positive in response to media requests.

They argue that the data is extrapolated from the employees’ medical records, which are considered private under state law. Releasing the information would violate the employees’ privacy and ruin the businesses’ reputations, the groups contend.

The lawsuit seeks an injunction blocking the release and unspecified damages.


Evers, a Democrat, told reporters during a teleconference Thursday afternoon that he hadn’t seen the lawsuit and couldn’t comment on it. However, he said the administration is trying to satisfy requests for information under Wisconsin’s open records law.

“We’re not going to be putting these lists of businesses on our website,” Evers aid. “We’ve been asked by media for lists of businesses under investigation. Our lawyers have worked on that and it its a legitimate release that we’ll be doing. We have an obligation to the public to obey the law in that area.”

The dust-up comes as COVID-19 is tearing unchecked across the state, leading to a record number of deaths and patients jamming hospitals.

State health officials reported 27 deaths on Wednesday, a new daily record. On Thursday, they reported 2,887 newly confirmed cases, another record. The state has now seen 125,161 cases and 1,348 deaths since the pandemic began. It now ranks third in the nation for per-capita increases in cases over the last two weeks.

Nearly 700 people are currently hospitalized with the disease. According to state health officials, only 17% of hospital beds were available as of Thursday afternoon.

Kelly McBride Moore, a spokeswoman for Green Bay-based Bellin Health, said over the last week their emergency department has seen so many patients that at times nurses had to place them in beds on hallways.

Matt Heywood, president and CEO of Wausau-based Aspirus Health Care, said his system was averaging about 10 COVID-19 patients a day until about three weeks ago, when the average jumped to 47. As of Thursday, 61 of the system’s 345 total patients had the disease, he said, making it more difficult to move patients between facilities because beds aren’t available.

Dr. Emron Andrandi, president and CEO of Appleton-based ThedaCare, said the number of COVID-19 patients in his hospital has grown from 13 a month ago to 64 on Thursday. He added that 250 employees didn’t show up for work Thursday because they may have been exposed to the disease in the community.

Evers issued an executive order Thursday allowing health care workers