Uncertainty and Cancellations Hit Downtown As Coronavirus Spreads *UPDATED*

Coronavirus in city, a prevention and protection concept.

UPDATE: Since this story was published, new figures are out. The Department of Public Health reports, as of noon on March 15, there are 69 confirmed cases of COVID-19 infection in Los Angeles County, including one death. Mayor Eric Garcetti has ordered bars, nightclubs, gyms, theaters and other gathering places to close.

In an effort to stave off the spread of the COVID-19 strain of the coronavirus, city and state leaders have instituted a list of changes to governmental bodies and public events.

With more than 198 cases and four deaths in California as of Friday, March 13, Gov. Gavin Newsom on Thursday exercised his emergency powers, issuing an executive order suspending meeting requirements of the Brown Act and Bagley-Keene Open Meeting Act, authorizing state and local bodies to hold public meetings by teleconference and to make public meetings accessible to the public by phone or other electronic means.

The move came a day after an order was issued by Gov. Newsom to cancel gatherings of 250 or more people through the end of March, and an executive order to allow the state to commandeer hotels, and medical facilities to treat coronavirus patients.

“Changing our actions for a short period of time will save the life of one or more people you know,” Newsom said in a prepared statement. “That’s the choice before us. Each of us has extraordinary power to slow the spread of this disease.”

Locally, the Los Angeles City Council and the Mayor’s Office have taken more stringent measures to curb the spread of the illness.

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, who told reporters that he was briefed on the governor’s plan prior to his announcement, took an additional step, directing the cancellation of all non-essential public events with more than 50 guests through March 31.

Last week, Los Angeles City Council President Nury Martinez announced in a letter to colleagues the intent to reduce City Council public meetings at City Hall from three meetings per week, to just one for the remainder of March. Committee meetings were also cancelled.

The letter went on to call for only necessary council staffers to be allowed on the council floor during public meetings and the suspension of ceremonial events, which typically take place before the start of the bulk of council business.

“If you haven’t already, I ask that you consider rescheduling any large-scale events in your district and curtail field staff’s attendance at any large-scale events or meetings,” Martinez’s letter read. “For our purposes, we have the people’s business to carry on and we are trying to do that while minimizing risk and exposure for all.”

City and county leaders are currently scheduled to meet on Tuesday to discuss the region’s response to the outbreak.

Martinez’s letter came just hours before Garcetti also announced a directive for general managers for all City facilities to create a plan to stagger individuals into city buildings at 50 people a time and to close off Los Angeles City Hall from the public, except for public City Council meetings.

The directive notes that transit locations like Union Station and similar facilities and city shelters are exempt from that requirement. It remains unclear what, if any, measures will be taken at some of Downtown’s larger transit hubs. According to Metro spokesmen Brian Haas, the agency is increasing cleaning schedules and installing signage to encourage best hygiene practices.

As of press time, there are 132,700 cases worldwide, with 4,955 reported deaths according to the CDC. In the United States, since Jan. 21, there have been 1,264 cases.

sthomas@timespublications.com