Health experts are optimistic during LA Councilman Mike Bonin’s telephone town hall on coronavirus

By Danny Karel

The daily death toll of the novel coronavirus continues to rise across Los Angeles — 600 fatalities and 12,341 cases have been confirmed as of this writing.

Yet, despite these grim statistics, Dr. Jan King of the LA County Department of Public Health, had reasons to be optimistic.

“The situation is currently looking pretty hopeful,” King said during a telephone town hall meeting Saturday morning hosted by District 11 LA City Councilman Mike Bonin, featuring King and four other county representatives and medical experts.

Citing the increasing availability of testing for those experiencing COVID-19 symptoms, King said it’s now possible to book an appointment and receive a test the same day or the day after, and the plateauing number of hospitalizations suggests that the Safer at Home ordinance is working.

Dr. Dan Ruderman, an assistant professor of research medicine at USC, echoed King’s optimism.

“In the data I’ve seen this tremendous effect,” Ruderman said. “While it started off as this exponential, very frightening looking growth, it’s now transitioned to a very different phase. It shows the importance of physical distancing.”

Ruderman also noted that in Bonin’s district the spread of the infection has been significantly slower than the rest of Los Angeles by a factor of about half.

In order to sustain this progress toward containing the virus, those who are exhibiting symptoms — fever, fatigue, dry cough — should get tested as soon as possible.

Louise McCarthy, who heads the Community Clinic Association of LA County, urged people to call their regular health care providers before turning to clinics and county resources for testing.

At a time when nonprofit clinics are attempting to increase their capacity to serve patients, she said, in-person visits, the basis on which they receive funding, have fallen by 40 to 70%.

For those exhibiting symptoms, the quickest way to access testing is to call 211, which offers clear information about community health resources, or by visiting corona-virus.LA, a website established by the mayor’s office. Through this website, individuals can register for testing, find community health resources, access a wealth of helpful information about the virus, and learn about the actions being taken by the city.

Members of the panel expressed hope that testing will soon be expanded to those who aren’t experiencing symptoms. This step, along with antibody testing, a separate process that aims to identify individual immunity to COVID-19, will play key roles in determining when and how society will reopen.

Meanwhile, Bonin focused on the socioeconomic impacts of the virus, mentioning his plans to use part of the city’s portion of the federal bailout fund to address the homelessness crisis and create more affordable housing by buying “hotels that go belly-up, or use that to buy the distressed properties that are absolutely going to be on the market at cheaper prices after the crisis is over…”

This comment drew the ire of at least some local landlords on social media and in letters to The Argonaut, who hoped that bailout funds would be redirected to help them weather the financial predicament of being asked to pay property taxes and mortgages while their tenants are temporarily exempt from paying rent as a result of the city’s eviction moratorium. The distressed properties Bonin alluded to, they feared, might
be their own.

Responding to an elderly caller from Westchester who was concerned about contracting the virus while shopping for groceries and collecting her mail, King emphasized the effectiveness of regular hand washing and social distancing. King also cited a study, which found that the virus can live on metal or plastic for up to three days, and on cardboard or paper for a day or slightly longer.

So far, there have been no documented cases of individuals contracting the virus from picking up their mail, but caution would dictate letting mail sit for a day or two.

While at grocery stores, King advised people to avoid touching items they don’t plan to buy, and when ordering takeout, she suggested they remove their food from the carton, dispose of the carton, and wash their hands immediately afterward.

However, because the odds of contracting the virus from takeout and food delivery remains low, Bonin encouraged residents to patronize their local restaurants.

“If you can afford it, call one of your local restaurants and order delivery, because those places are really hurting,” he said.

Bonin also outlined other steps the district is considering, like closing certain residential streets to vehicle traffic and opening them up to pedestrians, which would make it easier for walkers and cyclists to practice social distancing. On April 13, Bonin asked the Los Angeles Department of Transportation to consider this measure after receiving formal requests from the Del Rey Neighborhood Council and West LA residents who have proposed creating “slow zones” for motorists, some of whom have “taken advantage of congestion-free streets to speed recklessly,” according to Bonin.

Bonin also used the opportunity to praise front-line workers keeping society running, and various volunteer groups that have sprung up across the city, among them Westside Friends (westsidefriends.com), where volunteers can sign up to make grocery and pharmacy runs for their neighbors; Westside Pacific Villages (thewpv.org), which organizes a senior support network; Mutual Aid LA (mutualaidla.org), which connects people with financial aid and other services; and Project Mask, whose volunteers sew and distribute masks to hospitals, nursing homes, and people in need. It’s also possible to order masks for individuals and essential businesses through a city website, laprotects.org.

Town halls over the next few weeks will focus on renter and small business issues. Information about future telephone town halls is available on 11thdistrict.com.

“This is not forever,” said Greg Good, a member of Mayor Eric Garcetti’s senior leadership team, in his final remarks to the town hall. “We’ll get through this, but we have to make sure we stay together.”

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