Stepping up restrictions aimed at slowing the spread of coronavirus, Los Angeles County and city officials issued a “Safer At Home” order Thursday, calling on people to remain home as much as possible and for businesses that don’t provide essential goods or services to close.

While not fully banning outdoor activities, the order prohibits gatherings of 10 or more people. The order allows for health-care, government and food-industry employees to continue going to work, along with workers in other “essential” fields, but others are encouraged to stay home.

The order goes into effect at midnight and will last until at least April 19, and it could be extended if necessary, county health officials said.

“We know that staying home and limiting close contact is the best way to prevent community spread,” County Supervisor Kathryn Barger said. “We know that social distancing does not mean restriction from going outside and does not mean isolation. We still encourage you to stay connected to your community and loved ones in creative ways and to spend much needed time outdoors. People working in essential functions within the healthcare, government and food industries will still be on the job, but we encourage other employees to stay home.”

Los Angeles Unified School District will continue to provide education online and food distribution centers, and the Ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles will continue operations, Barger said.

Los Angeles Metro will also continue to provide transit service.

But the order calls for non-essential businesses to close.

“All businesses, including museums, malls, retail stores, for-profit companies and nonprofit organizations must stop operations that require workers to be present in person,” Mayor Eric Garcetti said. “And no public and private gatherings of any size that would occur outside of a single home will be allowed, with clear exceptions.

“I want to be clear about this, that the only time you should leave your home is for essential activities and needs — to get food, care for a relative or friend or a child, get necessary healthcare, go for a walk in the neighborhood,” he said. “… I think there’s been terrible terms out there, like lockdown. Nobody is locked down. We encourage you not to be locked down. This is not shelter-in-place like a school shooting. This is stay at home. Because you’re safer at home. The only people who should be leaving home and going out are those whose jobs are critical to the safety, the health and security of the city, as well as the economy of recovery for us and the nation during this crisis.”

Garcetti said “the data is clear” in that the city and county are seeing the rate of coronavirus cases rising as fast as Italy, which has been rocked by the virus.

“We cannot wait and we must act now,” Garcetti said.

For restaurants, the county has the ability to withdraw the establishment’s service permit if they do not comply with the order, but Barger said many large businesses have told her they will comply.

Businesses that are considered “essential” and permitted to remain open under the order include police and fire stations, jails, courts, government services, utilities, gas stations, repair shops, hospitals and health care centers, grocery stores, farmers markets, convenience stores, restaurants, hardware stores, nurseries, plumbers, electricians, laundromats, media outlets and educational institutions.

Los Angeles Department of Public Health Director Dr. Barbara Ferrer said if people are experiencing symptoms of respiratory illness, they cannot enter public spaces.

“We must slow the number of new cases that we have,” Ferrer said, otherwise, there will be a strain on the county’s health care system. “The predictions are not inaccurate to say many, many people could be infected in L.A. County.”

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