Long Beach residents should expect stricter restrictions to come in the “very near future,” likely Thursday night, March 19, Mayor Robert Garcia announced during a press conference that afternoon, to further curb the spread of the new coronavirus.
Garcia did not say what those restrictions may entail, but he said they would go further than the regulations that are currently in place.
The most recent order from city officials came Monday, March 16, when Garcia announced all nightclubs, bars, theaters, bowling alleys, arcades and gyms would close in accordance with state and county guidance in an attempt to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus.
In addition to those closures, restaurants can only offer takeout or delivery; gatherings, meanwhile, are limited to fewer than 50 people.
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“To be clear, people need to expect that restrictions that are currently in place in the city of Long Beach are going to get tighter,” Garcia said Thursday afternoon, “and we’re going to have more instructions for the community, most likely this evening.”
The announcement came shortly after the office of Los Angeles City Councilman Joe Buscaino said a “stay-at-home” order would likely be coming to the county soon.
During his afternoon press conference, Garcia also touched on the limited capacity for testing the city — and the country — has at the moment.
Last week, Long Beach received a test kit that provides 1,000 tests; the city’s Communicable Disease Controller Emily Holman said Thursday she could not provide an updated number of how many tests remain available.
“The reality is, is that we need more tests — a lot more tests,” Garcia said, “and I’m getting a lot of residents, rightly so, asking, ‘Where are the drive-thru tests?’ and I have the same question, ‘Where are the drive-thru tests?’
“We will be able to do those testing sites,” Garcia said, “once we get a significant amount of tests from the federal government.”
Thursday’s press conference came after the city announced two more people had tested positive for COVID-19, bringing Long Beach’s total tally to 12; three people, meanwhile, have recovered from the disease.
But Garcia said he suspects that number severely underestimates the scope of the crisis in Long Beach.
“That doesn’t mean there are only 12 people in Long Beach that are positive for COVID-19,” he said. “I suspect that number is much higher, but until we are able to test more individuals, we just don’t know.
“The more tests we receive, the more we’ll be able to gauge how serious the challenge is in front of us,” Garcia added, “but I suspect it’s pretty serious, and that’s how we have to operate.”
Long Beach officials also announced Thursday that about 130 people are being monitored for COVID-19, a number that has remained relatively stable in recent days — even as the number of people who have tested positive has grown.
Holman, for her part, said the Health Department has categorized people who may have been exposed to the virus in different risk categories based on how close of contact they had with someone who has tested positive.
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“Those in the highest risk categories, such as household members, people who had very close contact to infected people, we call them daily and check in on them and ask about symptoms,” she said, “and if they do start to develop symptoms, we have a plan for them and try to get them tested.”
COVID-19, which stands for coronavirus disease 2019, is caused by a virus named SARS-CoV-2. Symptoms associated with the respiratory disease, which appear two-to-14 days after exposure, include fever, a cough and shortness of breath. While most people — including healthy young adults — will experience mild symptoms, the disease can be severe and possibly fatal for at-risk groups, such as the elderly and those with other health problems.
Holman said the process of investigating people’s potential exposure to the virus — which could involve interviewing 100 people who had recent contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19 — is routine for her office.
“It’s a process that we’ve used for years,” she said. “It’s what we do on a daily basis for other diseases, so it’s not a new process for us. It’s one we’re very familiar with.”
As for what folks can do amid the ongoing pandemic, both Garcia and Holman emphasized the same measures that experts have recommended to prevent the spread of the virus: stay home, wash your hands for 20 seconds, clean surfaces and other items you handle often, and maintain at least 6 feet of distance between yourself and others.
“We all have an important role to play in helping slow the spread of this disease,” Holman said. “What you do does matter now, especially when it comes to keeping our most vulnerable people from developing serious illness from COVID-19. We can’t do this without your help.”