- Associated Press - Thursday, May 14, 2020

LOS ANGELES (AP) - Leaving home in Los Angeles now requires bringing a face covering, part of the price for reopening more businesses and activities in America’s second-largest city, which is moving cautiously as less-populated areas of California press ahead.

Mayor Eric Garcetti said everyone must carry the coverings when they go outdoors and wear them when they are around people from outside their households. The announcement came as the city began allowing curbside pickup from retail stores and reopened beaches for limited use.

The mask rule is the same in surrounding Los Angeles County, which has emerged as California’s epicenter for the virus. The county has a quarter of California’s nearly 40 million people but more than half of its more than 3,000 virus deaths.

County Health Director Dr. Barbara Ferrer said masks aren’t needed for a solitary run or walk.

“But you now need to have a face covering with you because if you came by other people, you were walking by other people, you try to go into a grocery store, you absolutely have to have that face covering on,” she said Thursday.



California, the nation’s most populous state, has fared better than many other other states, most notably New York, which has nine times more deaths. The feared surge of cases that could overwhelm hospitals never happened. As a result, one of the biggest symbols of the state’s preparations will disappear Friday when the Navy ship Mercy leaves Los Angeles for its home port in San Diego.

The ship with 250 beds was envisioned as a safety valve to take in non-coronavirus patients so hospitals would have room for infected people. But it was barely needed and never took in more than about two dozen patients.

In some less-populated areas mainly in the northern half of the state, the virus barely registered. There have been few or no deaths, and even hospitalizations now are rare in those areas.

As a result, California has seen counties move at different paces in reopening their economies. Siskiyou County, along the Oregon border, is among the latest of the 20 counties to win approval from California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s administration to reopen businesses, including dine-in restaurants, before the state’s stay-at-home order allows for it.

Newsom has repeatedly said he expects California’s diverse regions will adopt different approaches. San Diego County, for one, has carved a path of its own. While the county has a similar mask rule to Los Angeles, it also wants Newsom to relax requirements for urban areas to reopen businesses, saying some of them - notably requiring no virus deaths for two weeks - are impossible to reach.

“It’s not going to work for the bigger counties,” said Michelle Steel, chair of the board of supervisors in Orange County, which along with San Diego, Riverside and San Bernardino has asked for a meeting with Newsom on the issue.

Counties in the San Francisco Bay Area are also starting to show some differences. Six counties lauded for their coordinated shelter-in-place orders - the first in the nation - are diverging from their regional approach with three announcing plans to allow curbside sales for clothing stores, bookstores, flower shops and other retail businesses starting Monday.

San Francisco, San Mateo and Marin counties plan to release new orders to also allow warehouses and manufacturing to resume with modifications that will include physical distancing and a limit of 50 workers on-site.

San Mateo County Health Officer Dr. Scott Morrow announced the county’s revised order in a statement Wednesday, saying data showed “some stability” in hospital capacity and new COVID-19 cases.

“I want to remind everyone these modifications are not being made because it is safe to be out and about,” Morrow said. “The virus continues to circulate in our community, and this increase in interactions among people is likely to spread the virus at a higher rate.”

In contrast, Santa Clara County Health Director Dr. Sara Cody told county officials she planned to stick with the current, stricter shelter-in-place order because the conditions haven’t sufficiently changed. The other two of the six counties - Contra Costa and Alameda - have not announced any plans for changes.

As many counties see improved conditions, a new concern has emerged - visitors from outside coming and potentially bringing the virus with them. In Ventura County, which abuts Los Angeles County, the Visitors & Convention Bureau is reminding residents that “now is not the time for visitors” and urging them to support local businesses coping with the lack of tourism.

Farther norther along the coast, San Luis Obispo County has an online ad saying it’s “proud to be your home away from home. But right now staying home is the way to beat COVID-19.”

Rodriguez reported from San Francisco and Taxin reported from Orange County, California. Associated Press writer John Antczak in Los Angeles contributed to this report.

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