LOS ANGELES — The nation's most populous county is aiming for a July 4 reopening as public health and policy experts say the coronavirus pandemic has stabilized enough to begin economic recovery.
Los Angeles County officials set the deadline this week to reopen restaurants, malls and retail stores by Independence Day as stay-at-home orders continue to take a toll on nearly every industry, from retail to TV and film production.
"We have the epidemic under control with these lockdown orders, and we can start thinking about relaxing those orders," said Neeraj Sood, a professor and vice dean for research at the University of Southern California's Price School of Public Policy. "I think the county is ready to open on July 4th."
Businesses must submit detailed proposals to the county by June 30 outlining the safety measures they plan to introduce to protect workers and customers, including social distancing rules and employee access to personal protective equipment.
"I really do believe, as far as I'm concerned, if we move forward in a cautious way and work with all of our sectors ... that we could be discussing opening many of these sectors before the Fourth of July weekend," said Kathryn Barger, chair of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors.
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On Friday, the Department of Justice sent a letter to L.A. city Mayor Eric Garcetti and Barbara Ferrer, the county's public health director, warning that a long-term lockdown "may be both arbitrary and unlawful." In the letter, the DOJ said it recognized the city and county's duty to protect residents but that "governmental authority, however, is not limitless, and must be exercised reasonably."
With more than 10 million residents spread out across 4,000 square miles, the county must contend with dozens of cities and unincorporated communities that have their own mayors, city councils, school districts, police departments and even health departments.
Meeting the July 4 target date will be a mammoth undertaking tied to science and data, not public sentiment, health officials cautioned.
"We have to do a lot of things right so we can actually get to that date," Ferrer said. "I think the reality is that we are going to really aim together to get there as quickly as possible, but we're going to pay attention to the data and science."
Los Angeles County, which surpassed 2,000 COVID-19 deaths Thursday, accounts for nearly half of California's 86,000 confirmed cases and deaths, according to public health officials.
As the county prepares for reopening, a new study led by Sood suggests that more residents have been infected than confirmed case counts show. According to the ongoing serology research by USC and the county health department, about 3 percent of residents have contracted the coronavirus, Sood said.
"This means we're nowhere near the end of this epidemic," he said. "You have to have a long-term plan on the horizon for policy planning."
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