LOS ANGELES (AP) — Los Angeles officials announced plans Monday to expand testing for the coronavirus as authorities closed more beach parking lots to prevent the pandemic’s spread after large groups flocked to the coast and mountains to get some fresh air on the first weekend since the state’s stay-at-home order took effect.
City and county officials said they had contracted with a South Korean company to be able to test up to 5,000 people a day by Friday, significantly ramping up an effort that has lagged nationwide amid the outbreak.
“The U.S. has fallen behind other nations in response to this pandemic,” City Councilman David Ryu said. “We need to take action ourselves. Los Angeles is not going to wait around.”
The announcement came as public health officials re-emphasized the need for all but essential workers, or people shopping for food, getting medications or visiting the doctor, to stay home and keep their distance from others.
While Gov. Gavin Newsom’s stay home order allowed residents to exercise, hordes took to trails, bike paths and beaches in a way that concerned officials that people were not observing a 6-foot (1.8 meter) buffer from others.
While the state’s best-known beaches in Southern California remained open, parking lots were closed in Malibu, Santa Monica, Los Angeles and San Diego in effort to curb crowds. Several San Francisco-area beaches were closed.
Parks in scenic Marin County, north of San Francisco, were closed and access was restricted to many of the trails in the Santa Monica Mountains that run through Los Angeles County.
“That doesn’t mean gather elsewhere,” Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti tweeted Sunday. “This is serious. Stay home and save lives.”
By midday Monday, there were more than 2,000 cases in California and 38 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University.
To help combat an expected shortage of hospital beds as the virus spreads, the U.S. Naval hospital ship Mercy departed San Diego on Monday bound for Los Angeles to treat non-coronavirus patients. The 1,000-bed USNS Mercy is expected to arrive in less than a week and begin accepting patients within a day of arrival, Capt. John R. Rotruck said.
“We definitely have a sense of urgency,” Rotruck said.
Doctors will be able to perform surgery in nine operating rooms and the ship will be able to care for intensive care patients.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency will deploy eight Army field hospitals to the state with a 2,000-bed capacity to also treat non-coronavirus patients, Sen Dianne Feinstein, D-California, announced.
In other developments:
— Los Angeles Unified School District said it would remain closed through at least May 1 and would spend $100 million in emergency funds to equip all students with tablets or laptops so they can learn at home. Verizon will provide internet access to families without it.
“I wish I could tell you it will all be back to normal sometime soon but it does not look like that will be the case,” Supt. Austin Beutner said.
The district has opened dozens of food distribution centers that provide “grab-and-go” meals to students who would regularly eat at school during the day.
— A Los Angeles County Superior Court in Sylmar was closed for three days after a public defender who works there tested positive for COVID-19.
— Marin County’s public health officer said he tested positive for coronavirus. Matt Willis said he started self-quarantining from his family late last week once symptoms appeared and that results were returned Sunday. He does not know how he contracted the virus.
“I didn’t necessarily think I would be such an early example of the fact this is in our community,” Willis said. “While my symptoms are now mild, as most people’s will be, we also know that for many, especially our elders, this same illness can be life threatening.”
— Los Angeles City Council, which had hoped to hold its regularly scheduled meeting Tuesday by teleconference, nixed that plan and canceled its meeting for next week, as well.
City and county lawmakers worked to cut red tape to authorize $1.25 million to buy 20,000 tests to ramp up testing, Ryu said.
As of Friday, fewer than 10% of the state’s 25,000 tests for the virus had been carried out in Los Angeles County, which is home to a quarter of the state’s 40 million people. Wider testing is important to achieve a better sense of the scope of the problem.
Initial efforts of the expanded testing program will focus on health care workers, emergency workers and the most vulnerable — those over 65 or with underlying health problems.
— In an effort to get people off the streets, San Diego said it would open its convention center and the Golden Hall arena as shelters space to help roughly 5,000 homeless people.