Business owners’ compliance with coronavirus infection-control measures has been steadily improving, Los Angeles County’s health officer said Thursday as he introduced a business-training program that’ll designate participants as fully trained in safety protocols.

“Work-site compliance, as we’ve mentioned before, is a cornerstone of our efforts to slow the spread of coronavirus in the county,” Dr. Muntu Davis said during an online briefing.

Davis said coronavirus outbreaks at commercial and residential settings have been trending downward, and inspectors who fanned across the area over the Labor Day holiday weekend found businesses were generally adhering to required safety measures. He said inspectors visited 331 businesses, and “reasonably good compliance was found with many aspects of the county protocols.”

“But as you can see, not everyone is at 100%,” he said. “In fact, gyms and hotels, for example, need to work on ensuring that their patrons are wearing a face covering. You can also see that restaurants need to work on physical distancing.”

Davis said that since the county began issuing financial citations for health order violations on Aug. 28, only a total of 30 citations have been issued, with fines totaling $23,000.

While business compliance with county regulations is on the rise, Davis announced the start of a COVID-19 Safety Compliance Certificate Program. He called it a “training and self-certification program that businesses can use to demonstrate to the public that they have received training on and are implementing and following the required county reopening protocols.”

“Participants of this program will learn about the required protocols, and how to manage their operations with as much safety as possible,” he said. “The program is available to both business owners and their employees. It’ll provide business owners with a COVID-19 Safety Compliance certificate that can be posted to demonstrate that their facility has been trained on and, again, is following the required health protocols.”

Participation in the program is voluntary. But Davis said obtaining the certificate can be a boon for businesses because it can “provide customers with more confidence that the business is following the county health and safety requirements.”

Davis again noted that the county is making substantial progress in slowing the spread of COVID-19, but he reminded residents to remain vigilant and avoid becoming lax about adhering to requirements such as face coverings and social distancing. He again warned about the dangers of gathering with non-household members.

Contact-tracing interviews with more than 10,000 coronavirus-positive residents between Aug. 17-31 found that 56% of them had contact with at least one person while they were infectious. The vast majority of those contacts, 89.5%, were with people in the same household, while about 4.3% were contacts that occurred in social settings.

“This could be a dinner party, a birthday celebration or a visit with a friend over coffee,” Davis said. “We want to continue to remind everyone that even though it’s difficult, gatherings remain prohibited by the health officer order, and we should avoid them at this time. … Unfortunately, we’ve seen social situations turn into outbreaks because of non-household members being in close contact with each other, and it just isn’t the safest thing to do at this time.”

The county on Thursday reported another 42 coronavirus-related deaths, while Long Beach health officials announced three more fatalities, bringing the countywide total from throughout the pandemic to 6,131.

County health officials announced 1,239 new cases, while Long Beach reported 49 and Pasadena added two, lifting the overall cumulative countywide total to 251,075.

A total of 940 people were hospitalized due to the virus as of Thursday.

School campuses across the county remain closed due to the virus, although the county recently announced that some students with specialized education plans would be permitted to return to in-person instruction.

But county public health director Barbara Ferrer came under some scrutiny Thursday when KFI radio obtained an audio recording of comments she made on a conference call with local education officials, saying schools will not reopen “until after the election.”

“We don’t realistically anticipate that we would be moving to either tier two or to reopening our K-through-12 schools at least during, at least until after the election, after, you know, in early November,” Ferrer said on the recording aired by KFI. “Like, when we just look at the timing of everything, it seems to us the more realistic approach to this would be to think that we’re going to be where we are now … until we’re done with the election.”

Once the recording began circulating online, it sparked social-media conspiracy theorists saying her comments prove the suggestion the virus is being used as a political weapon to harm President Donald Trump’s reelection chances.

Responding to multiple media outlets, the Department of Public Health issued a statement saying Ferrer’s comment was only referencing a general timeframe.

“Dr. Ferrer’s comment was related only to timing any expanded school re-openings to allow for enough time from the implementation of changes to assess impact prior to expansions,” according to the department. “DPH will be working closely with schools providing services and supports to high need students over the next 6-8 weeks to implement and assess safety directives and strategies for ensuring infection control and distancing. This information will be used to inform the timing of future activities at schools.”

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