(Reuters) – The mayor of Los Angeles warned on Wednesday the city was nearing “a devastating tipping point” and ordered residents to stay in their homes and avoid social gatherings in new lockdown measures to rein in a surge in COVID-19 infections.
His order limits nearly all social gatherings of people from more than a single household, mirroring a directive by county health officials last week, but exempts religious services and protests protected by the constitution.
“Our City is now close to a devastating tipping point, beyond which the number of hospitalized patients would start to overwhelm our hospital system, in turn risking needless suffering and death,” Mayor Eric Garcetti said late on Wednesday.
Los Angeles is the second-largest city in the U.S. and has a population of over 3.9 million. Los Angeles county, which is home to the city, has recorded 414,185 infections and a death toll of 7,740, according to LA Public Health.
The way to avoid a “dreaded scenario” is to refrain from gathering with people from outside your household wherever possible, Garcetti said.
He also directed businesses requiring the presence of workers to close, and set restrictions on travel, but specified certain exceptions to both.
People may “lawfully” leave homes to engage in exempted activities like healthcare operations, supermarkets and restaurants, the directive said.
The head of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned on Wednesday that the pandemic was still raging nationwide and that the country faced its grimmest health crisis yet over the next few months, before vaccines become widely available.
More than 270,000 Americans have died from COVID-19 to date. The University of Washington’s influential Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation has projected the toll could reach nearly 450,000 by March 1 without greater social distancing and mask-wearing.
(Reporting by Aakriti Bhalla and Shubham Kalia in Bengaluru; Editing by Clarence Fernandez and Pravin Char)