Statement on Health Officer Order to Close Outdoor Dining

“Today, the Board of Supervisors reaffirmed the Health Officer’s recommendation to close outdoor dining in light of alarming new rates of new COVID-19 cases.

“These are not decisions that we have made lightly. We are acutely aware of the compromises all Angelenos have been forced to make in order to protect the health and safety of themselves and their loved ones. Unfortunately, as we seek to balance the public health and economic health of our region, there is no win-win outcome. There are downsides to every decision.

“I have always been guided by one fundamental question: How do we do act in a manner that is likely to cause the least amount of permanent, irreversible harm to our residents?
Despite what some naysayers may say, it has not been for naught. Compared to many other cities and regions of our size and density, we’ve avoided overwhelming our healthcare systems and prevented many deaths.

“As we move forward – I hope this Board will continue to prioritize strategies that are designed to get our metrics low enough so that we can reopen schools and get our children back to optimal learning as quickly as possible. Their future is on the line. And frankly, I think incremental efforts to re-open the economy have made it more difficult for us to leave the most restrictive tier and safely move in this direction.

“If this is our objective, we must be consistent. If we are asking that everyone stay home and limit physical interactions with people outside of their homes, our policies align with this message. The public is being bombarded with confusing and incomplete information, much of which is contradictory. Allowing outdoor dining, where people of mixed households gather to dine and mingle without face masks is inconsistent to our request for people to stay home.

“Accordingly, I support the Health Officer’s recommendations and ask that we all do our part to help push through these challenging times.” -Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas

Statement on Spike in COVID-19 Cases

As we head into our ninth month of this pandemic – no one should think this is business as usual. We are seeing increases across all COVID-19 metrics including the number of cases, positivity rates, and hospitalizations.

If COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations remain high or continue to increase, we must consider additional measures to slow the spread and put the public’s health first. While we must not jump to any conclusions before the Board of Supervisors has had time to fully consider all options and listen to input from the public, I trust we will also be prioritizing the need to safely keep the economy open. We must also look for structural ways to remind everyone that the safest place to be right now is at home. Potential options could include instituting a curfew, so businesses do not have to close again, but would instead have limited hours for essential activities.

Younger people continue to drive the increase in community transmission in Los Angeles County. Residents between the ages of 30- and 49-years-old represent 34% of new cases, followed by residents between the ages of 18- and 29-years-old who comprise 27% of all new cases. While young people may not be hospitalized at the same rates as older members of our communities, they have the potential to spread the virus to those most at risk. The rise in cases also complicates planning for increasing the numbers of students returning to schools, further re-opening additional sectors, and permitting additional activities.

Many are understandably frustrated, especially as the holidays approach, as people feel strongly about maintaining the tradition to be around friends and family. Additionally, with the onset of cold weather, it becomes difficult to hold events outdoors. However, it is imperative that we remain patient, stay safe, and continue to put the health of our families and our communities first.

We must never lose sight of the extremely vulnerable Angelenos experiencing homelessness as the pandemic worsens during the flu season. They must not be an afterthought when it comes to protecting our communities. Our homeless residents will be hardest hit, and the pandemic poses additional obstacles and challenges to the County’s initiative to immediately bring everyone in.

We have all taken great efforts and made sacrifices to protect the health and safety of our loved ones and our neighbors—housed and unhoused—and this is the time to keep pushing on and be resilient. We must not give up.

Wellbeing During COVID-19, Just a Phone Call Away

Alejandra Vargas, 2nd-Year UCLA MSW Intern for the Public Partnership Wellbeing Line.

While the pandemic has sharpened our individual focus on our physical health, the crisis within the crisis—the pandemic and calls for social and racial justice amid a recent election—have exacerbated the mental health and wellbeing of many. To put it into perspective, research has indicated that loneliness and extended social isolation are twice as harmful to physical and mental health as obesity. 

Recognizing the impact of such challenging circumstances on mental health and wellbeing, Los Angeles County recently launched the Public Partnership Wellbeing Line for its employees to offer support, information, and connection to resources as needed—and of course, confidentially to maintain the privacy of callers. Individuals seeking help will be connected to a mental health and wellbeing helpline specialist who is there to offer support through the most difficult of moments.  

Meet Alejandra Vargas, 2nd-Year UCLA MSW Intern, one of the helpline specialists who have been serving the wellness needs of the employees of Los Angeles County.  

Alejandra has been working in the mental health field for 7 years. Her introduction to mental health began as she was completing her bachelor’s degree in Latin American/Latinx Studies. But it wasn’t until she stepped into her role managing a suicide prevention hotline in California’s Central Coast, Alejandra knew she found her niche.  

“A typical day on the Public Partnership Wellbeing Line is one where I am prepared to both provide emotional support and critical resources to LA County employee community members,” said Alejandra. “During calls, I lean in and listen attentively to what our callers are sharing. I can’t rely on body language and movement to connect, so creatively connecting with callers through active listening while being able to hold their experience in a non-judgmental but supportive way is my typical goal.” 

Alejandra participates in this space of support and care to civil servants and other providers seeking to build resiliency and bear witness to much of the hurt that is happening behind closed doors, especially since so many are confined to their homes more than ever before. In bringing resources and relief to callers, the wellbeing helpline specialists are healing and continuing to build community under these isolating circumstances.      

Alejandra’s support is timely and necessary as Angelenos head into a holiday season under the constraints of the pandemic that limit or prevent gatherings entirely in an effort to curb the pandemic’s spread in the winter months.  

Her selflessness to help others is deeply heartfelt and comes from a place of true empathy, as Alejandra has faced her own trials. “As a cancer survivor, being of service in this moment of uncertainty is a personally meaningful undertaking. I have had to sit in the unknown since my diagnosis, so it is a place I know well. And while these are different circumstances, it is a familiar feeling and my source of resiliency that I can pass along to others who I now share this space with,” she said.  

When faced with crisis, continued connection from dedicated staff like Alejandra is not only improving lives—it’s saving them. These impactful conversations are integral to helping individuals cope with incredibly sudden, drastic change.  

“There is a moment in a call—that very initial moment where sometimes a person is hesitant to really open up—and when you provide that person with the space where they can be vulnerable, it shifts. I recognize that vulnerability as a step and action towards courage, and it’s in every single call. There’s a little bit of hesitancy and then they open up. It’s in that one key moment where I know that I’ve provided, or started to provide, that space where a person can tear down those walls and tear down the stigma for themselves just by providing this space,” says Alejandra in describing what drives her to help callers in need.  

The Second District would like to extend special thanks and recognition to Alejandra Vargas and all who support the wellbeing helpline in this unprecedented moment of heightened stress. 


Lessons from Project Roomkey

With homelessness expected to worsen as the pandemic continues, Supervisors Mark Ridley-Thomas and Sheila Kuehl are seeking to learn from Project Roomkey, which has taken more than 4,000 people off the streets and into shelter over a span of just four months – an unprecedented feat.

Acting on their motion, the Board of Supervisors approved a study to determine, among other things, whether Roomkey had a positive impact on the lives of particularly vulnerable homeless individuals – those aged 65 or older, or with pre-existing conditions – who received temporary stays in hotel and motel rooms to protect them and the general public against the spread of COVID-19.

The study would also examine whether Roomkey resulted in net cost savings for government agencies that otherwise might have contended with added pressure on healthcare and criminal justice systems in the midst of a deadly pandemic.

“It is important that we learn the lessons of Project Roomkey and determine whether such large-scale intervention should be duplicated or even ramped up, especially since COVID-19’s economic impact is exacerbating both our homelessness and housing affordability crises,” Supervisor Ridley-Thomas said.  “The results of this study will create a foundation for long-term support of our homeless neighbors, particularly those who are seniors and/or have underlying health conditions.”

“Project Roomkey brought more than 4,000 of our most vulnerable homeless men and women indoors during the early months of the pandemic by marshaling unprecedented local, state and federal resources,” said Supervisor Kuehl. “Today’s action will help us better understand the success of Project Roomkey and how to build on this remarkable effort to rapidly rehouse people experiencing homelessness.”

Supervisors Ridley-Thomas and Kuehl’s motion called for looking into the services that Roomkey clients received during their hotel stay, as well as 12 months before and 12 months afterwards, and then comparing their outcomes with those of homeless individuals who were eligible for Roomkey but did not or could not participate in it.

With Project Roomkey, Los Angeles County signed occupancy agreements with almost 40 hotels to provide safe “non-congregate” shelter to over 4,000 people since starting in April 2020.  The program focused on people experiencing homelessness who did not have symptoms but were at high risk of contracting COVID-19.

The Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority then worked in tandem with community-based nonprofits to oversee operations and services at each hotel. County health departments provided clinical support while County staff volunteering as Disaster Service Workers provided non-clinical support.

In May 2020, the Board unanimously approved a motion authored by Supervisors Keuhl and Ridley-Thomas to fund a Recovery Rehousing Plan to connect the Project Roomkey residents  to long-term housing and stable services. In other words, in addition to COVID-19 health protections, Roomkey is also providing a pathway to permanent housing to vulnerable residents during the pandemic.

Los Angeles County is also part of the effort to scale up the nonprofit organization PATH’s Measure H-funded Lease-Up program, which will recruit more landlords and property managers to rapidly house Project Roomkey residents.

Keeping Leimert Park and Surrounding Communities Safe and Thriving

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas held a “Keep Leimert Park Safe and Thriving” event to provide COVID-19 mobile testing and 20,000 surgical masks for residents of Leimert Park and the nearby Crenshaw District, Hyde Park and Jefferson Park, which have collectively seen about 1,800 COVID-19 infections and about 75 deaths during the pandemic.

The Supervisor partneried with local nonprofit organizations and businesses to distribute free masks during the event, which will be held at the center of African American culture in Los Angeles

“Leimert Park enriches the cultural fabric of Los Angeles County and, with COVID-19 continuing to exact a particularly heavy toll on African Americans, we must not become complacent in our efforts to protect those who live and work in this historic community, which is a future stop on Metro’s Crenshaw LAX Line,” Supervisor Ridley-Thomas said.

“We stand with Supervisor Ridley-Thomas to ensure that the residents of Leimert Park and South LA in general have the appropriate resources to stop the spread of COVID-19. He has been front and center from day one to curb the tide of this dreadful pandemic,” added Robert Sausedo, President and CEO of Community Build, which is dedicated to the revitalization of South Los Angeles communities through investment in youth and commercial economic development.

“As a longtime resident of the Crenshaw Community, I would like to thank Supervisor Ridley Thomas and our many local partners for their efforts to Keep Leimert Park Safe and Thriving,” said Manal J. Aboelata, MPH, Deputy Executive Director of the Prevention Institute, a nonprofit whose mission is to build prevention and health equity into key policies and actions at the federal, state, local, and organizational level to ensure that the places where all people live, work, play and learn foster health, safety and wellbeing. “Having access to free masks and testing during COVID-19 and the flu season is critical so that all of us can more safely navigate our neighborhoods, support local businesses, and keep our families healthy,” she added.

Over the last several months, Supervisor Ridley-Thomas has been working with Operation USA (OpUSA), Servicon and Moldex to distribute 150,000 masks throughout LA County’s Second District. The masks have been distributed to thousands of local residents, as well as essential workers such as medical staff, firefighters, homeless services providers, grocery store workers, public defenders and skilled nursing home staff.

“We are so pleased to join Supervisor Ridley-Thomas and community partners in distributing masks to our undeserved neighbors and those most in need,” said Servicon Chairman Michael Mahdesian, who also chairs OpUSA.

“We are delighted that LA County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas has focused on protecting the public from the spread of COVID-19 by distributing masks to vulnerable and underserved communities,” added Richard Walden, President and CEO of OpUSA. “We rely on partners who implement sound public health approaches to extend our reach into communities where help — both in kind material aid and cash grants — is most needed, and so we’re grateful to Supervisor Ridley-Thomas and Servicon Systems for their commitment to distributing supplies across Los Angeles.”