Outrage over planned New Year's Eve gatherings as Los Angeles faces crush of Covid cases

News of planned New Year’s Eve parties in Los Angeles is sparking outrage as the region faces a catastrophic Covid crisis, record deaths and a crushed healthcare system.

In the lead up to the new year, LA has become the new center of America’s out-of-control pandemic, with one Covid death now happening every ten minutes and hospitals faced with unthinkable choices as they run out of intensive care unit (ICU) beds. But doctors’ warnings of “apocalyptic” scenes at hospitals have not stopped some businesses from planning in-person events to ring in 2021, drawing sharp criticism from health officials.

In upscale Beverly Hills, a fine-dining Italian restaurant called La Scala was caught advertising an indoor dinner for the 31st, leaving invitations in take-out bags that said, “Welcome back to the 20’s Prohibition.” The note emphasized that it would host people indoors, adding, “Please keep this discreet, but tell all your friends.”

After an image of the invitation went viral on Christmas day, the city of Beverly Hills said in a statement that it had reached out to the restaurant to remind representatives that current local orders prohibit indoor and outdoor dining. In an Instagram post on Monday, the restaurant said its message was meant to “add some levity” and that it was taking reservations for outdoor dining.

But with the current surge, which officials predict will only get worse amid holiday travel and gatherings, all in-person dining is banned, and authorities say they will likely extend the stay-at-home order into the new year.

In addition to La Scala, LA residents have raised alarms about a number of other secretive in-person parties planned for Thursday, as well as businesses that continue to openly flout regulations.

In Burbank, just outside of the city, residents have complained to local officials about Tinhorn Flats, a restaurant that has repeatedly posted anti-mask messages and reopened in protest of health restrictions.

“It’s horrifying and we are frightened,” said Linda Bessin, a Burbank resident who has written to city leaders about the burger restaurant. “While many of us are sympathetic to the survival of our local businesses and are doing our best to support restaurants, having people come in and not wear a mask and not social distance, and having them come from all over LA county to Burbank, it’s terrifying.”

The restaurant did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Most LA hospitals have been forced to turn away ambulances due to the crush of Covid cases over the weekend, California’s governor, Gavin Newsom, said in a briefing on Monday. “Routine emergency care is being slowed down. You think you’re immune to the impact of Covid … God forbid you have a stroke, a car accident or other acute care need.”

In LA, roughly one in 95 people are estimated to be contagious with Covid, and over the last week, the county has averaged roughly 13,800 new cases a day and 88 daily deaths. Experts in LA, the largest county in the US, attribute the latest “tsunami” of cases to the holidays, fatigue with restrictions, confusing public health messaging and the affordable housing crisis, which forces many families to live in overcrowded conditions.

California is now sending a specialized team to LA to help overwhelmed hospitals coordinate limited resources, Newsom said. The crisis is so dire that some medical centers are treating patients in lobbies, waiting rooms, gift shops and makeshift tents.

Fears of a significantly worsening surge come as California continues to distribute Covid vaccines. More than 261,000 doses have already been administered, and more than 1.76m are expected to arrive next week, Newsom said on Monday. But the initial round of vaccines won’t protect people who continue to ignore advisories and travel despite emotional and desperate pleas from hospitals for people to stay home.

Air travel substantially increased surrounding Thanksgiving and Christmas, and tens of thousands of travelers are expected to pass through LA’s international airport this week, officials say.

The virus has been particularly devastating for Latinos and Black Americans in California, who are disproportionately represented among essential workers and who have been forced to continue doing dangerous jobs throughout the crisis while the US government fails to provide basic aid or extended unemployment.

Donald Trump signed a new Covid stimulus package on Sunday night.


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