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Los Angeles bans almost all public gatherings to stop virus outbreak

SACRAMENTO – The Los Angeles County Public Health Department on Friday called on residents to stay at home as the virus continues to rise rapidly, banning gatherings both in public and at home if people are from different households.

The restrictions announced on Friday were not unexpected. Los Angeles County officials have gradually tightened health restrictions, but not yet to the stop levels imposed at the start of the pandemic.

The county had set a threshold for restrictions of an average of 4,500 daily cases over five days. That threshold was crossed earlier than expected: the five-day average of new cases reported on Friday was 4,751.

The directive allows religious services and demonstrations, noting that both are constitutionally protected rights. It sets maximum occupancy rates for various businesses, including non-essential retail, libraries and leisure activities, and leaves in place a county-wide ban on in-person eating at restaurants and bars, as customers cannot wear face masks when eating or drinking.

However, take-out and delivery services for catering establishments will still be permitted.

The directive is less harsh than Gov. Gavin Newsom’s order in March, which closed schools and most businesses and restricted public movement with exceptions for essential workers or essential activities like purchasing products from groceries and drugs.

“We know we ask a lot from so many people who have been sacrificing themselves for months,” said Barbara Ferrer, director of public health. “Acting with collective urgency now is essential if we are to stop this wave.”

The temporary order goes into effect Monday and will run until December 20.

In order for businesses to be allowed to stay open, customers must wear face masks and stay at least six feet away.

Schools and day camps can remain open, according to the directive. However, day camps as well as high and lower-level schools are required to close for two weeks if they report an outbreak, which the county has defined as three or more cases in 14 days.

California officials last week announced a curfew prohibiting nearly all residents of the state from leaving their homes to do non-essential work or from assembling from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m.

The new stay-at-home order has been described as more limited than the governor’s spring order; in addition to only applying overnight, it has a built-in expiration date at the moment and only applies to so-called purple-level counties, which are subject to the most stringent state restrictions in its reopening plan. It is in place until the morning of December 21.

“We are sounding the alarm,” Governor Gavin Newsom said when the order was released. “It is essential that we take action to reduce transmission and slow hospitalizations before the number of deaths increases. We have done it before and we must do it again.

On Sunday, the county ordered most restaurants to end al fresco and indoor dining from Wednesday, limiting those businesses to take-out, drive-thru and delivery services and causing backlash among restaurateurs, whose businesses have been criticized.

Shawn Hubler reported from Sacramento and John Ismay from Arlington, Va.

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