- In an exclusive interview, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti pushed back against optimism over the COVID-19 outbreak. "Giving people false hope will destroy their mood and kill more people," he said.
- The mayor told Business Insider that the worst was yet to come. "The most terrible thing I think is to keep every local leader awake is predicting how many people will get this, predicting how high the mortality rate will be, and how many deaths we will have."
- Garcetti said local restrictions will be required for at least two months, and residents should "be prepared longer."
- At least 13,000 of the poorest residents of Los Angeles continue to live on the streets, the mayor confirmed. The beds in emergency shelters are limited by the need for social distancing. In Skid Row, he warned, the novel corona virus could spread like wildfire.
- You can find more stories on the Business Insider homepage.
The Mayor of Los Angeles, Eric Garcetti, wants people in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic to have hope and recognize the kindness that can occur in times of tragedy. In an exclusive interview, he told Business Insider that "premature optimism" that is not data-based will only cost more lives.
And the data, he said, paint a bleak picture – for Los Angeles as well as for the rest of the country.
Millions of people in the city are expected to stay in their home for the next few months, and thousands of the poorest residents are still sleeping on the streets. A failure to distance itself socially across the country could cost hundreds of thousands of lives.
In a comprehensive interview, Garcetti told Business Insider that Los Angeles does not have the medical resources to prepare for the upcoming influx of critically ill patients. that residents will soon face an unprecedented number of deaths among their friends and family; and that while humanity is resilient, the crisis will fundamentally change city life.
The transcript has been slightly edited for clarity.
Business Insider: I was listening to your press conference last night and you said Los Angeles is six to twelve days from the tragedy that is happening in New York City. From your point of view, what can we expect?
Mayor Eric Garcetti: Well, numerically … I have to put the numbers right, but the number of cases we have for a county of 10 million people, compared to the number of cases in New York City of about 8.36 million people, if You do that per case head, we are concerned, depending on how high the rate of increase here is between six and twelve days.
I hope an earlier implementation of social distancing in our curve pays off, but no one I have spoken to from the medical, hospital, and data community believes that we will not reach a point where cases overwhelm our ability to treat. So there will be really hard days ahead when we will be in a hurry to prepare plans for extra beds.
Fortunately, the United States Naval Ship Mercy arrives later this week. This takes the pressure off our hospitals in the vicinity of 1,000 beds. (We) are trying to recall staff, medical personnel who may not be working, or who have recently retired or are ready to quit school, and all supplies needed. Only from a medical point of view, I think with sufficient confidence that we will be at this point in New York City in the next week or two. New York City isn't overwhelmed yet, but it will be in a few days. You will likely see us two to three weeks before we reach our hospital capacity and will need to focus on everything we can prepare for now.
BI: So when we exhaust our capacity, I know that the beds in the intensive care unit are already 90% full – what does this mean for the city's residents? Do we have to open provisional hospitals? We have to see the Staples Center as a temporary intensive care unit.
For example: Well, we probably cannot use these rooms as intensive care units, but we can convert beds that are not intensive care beds in our hospitals into intensive care rooms. And then we have to put these patients in a normal hospital bed that doesn't require equipment and no intensive care unit staff. And absolutely, I mean, we look at convention centers, we look at sports arenas, we look at tents, we look at places that are also close to hospitals, so people can be closely monitored may not even be a COVID-19 case, but someone who requires close monitoring and may need an intensive care bed. These are all the spaces and places where we help the county and the hospital association to plan and view it.
BI: And what do you need from the federal government?
For example: Everything. The help to flow, the help, the package; We're leafing through this morning, but there's a lot of good help there. I am a little disappointed, I think, when I initially read that this does not help our migrant workers, who are vital to our elixir of life here in a city like Los Angeles and need care too. But we were just getting 100,000 masks recently from a company that we had been doing business with for years. And we had signed the contract, cut off the check, and then they said, "Sorry, was just being removed from FEMA."
So we need the federal government to get more, we need it to get out of the way sometimes and not to put everything in one place, just to redistribute it when we're in these negotiations because we're there had to. And I think just as much help and guidance. The Army Corps of Engineers would certainly be great to help us finish these spaces and places the way they want to do in New York. And I understand why New York should be a priority now, but hopefully they can travel and help us do the same, or get up for units that are here, in the coming week or two if a place is free.
And I think we also need consistent news from the federal government. Real guidance from doctors and data scientists who urge not only us but also regions and across America to take this seriously.
I phoned many of my peer mayors and asked them to do so (protection restrictions introduced). Michelle de la Isla, the Mayor of Topeka, Kansas, has no confirmed case yet, but I told her, "I guarantee you will have cases. The sooner you do it, the more successful you will be and no one will upset that you protected them and saved lives, and maybe even kept your hospital capacity running. "
Mayor of Denver, Atlanta, we all communicate regularly and share these best practices. And I said over 200 citizens on the phone last week, "Do it, do it now. It doesn't matter where you are in the curve, do it right away." And I think people realize that you can do a good job where you are, but if the neighboring county doesn't, you could be affected as you would have been with nothing.
BI: What has Los Angeles done specifically that you think mayors in other cities can learn from? And I also think the second part of it is what you would have done differently afterwards?
For example: Well, I would have had a national supply, and I would have kept fans, masks, and domestic production alive. It is really important that people view them as national health and safety issues, not just as an economy moving towards just-in-time logistics. It works well for corporate profits; It doesn't work well in such disasters.
Second, I think Los Angeles was the first major city in America to close almost completely and the largest city to completely close all nonessential businesses. And all cities should do that, across America, big and small. I also think one of the lessons I've learned is that cities can really help counties. Districts are often not set up as senior branch managers, or a mayor in a particular area is the prime spokesman for the subway area. You may be the Mayor of Atlanta, a smaller city and a large subway area, but you are the face of Atlanta and you have Atlanta relationships.
The same here, the same in Seattle, the same in every type of media market and in every regional economy. You can be that person who brings the hospitals together, the business and manufacturing community, the logistics, warehouse and food supply communities. All of these things are really right on the shoulders of cities and a place to lead as we try to listen to doctors and get them what they need so they can take care of them.
BI: I think one of the unique challenges that Los Angeles faces, and I know you are aware of it, is that so many of our residents still live on the streets. Even though there is emergency shelter, there are still camps in my neighborhood, in the neighborhood of everyone in Los Angeles. I would like to hear what else the city is doing to tackle this public health crisis, and do you think we can maintain a sense of urgency after this time?
For example: Well, I hope so, because I've had this sense of urgency before. Over a year ago, I said we needed a FEMA-like response to homelessness, and it was the only way to increase resources to really end homelessness, rather than just hoping to reduce it by a small percentage. I was delighted to see federal funds flow into them. I was in regular communication with (Minister of Housing and Urban Development) Ben Carson and there are, I forget the number … for housing and homelessness in the federal package. And I was really pleased to see that this was happening.
Here in Los Angeles, we have doubled the number of people we take off the streets every day in just three years – about 133 a day. But about 150 will be homeless before this crisis started today. So it didn't take much more to get to the turning point.
But if we really want to speed this up, we will certainly be stepped up since we literally have a FEMA-based answer because, for public health reasons, we can take people to safe rooms such as emergency accommodations and motel rooms. Hopefully FEMA will reimburse most of it.
And that is absolutely critical for us when it is long past to make sure that they are not only there for a few weeks, but that we can also make exits to apartments for the people who are there. This is a real opportunity for me. I say never let a crisis like this end, but that will be absolutely crucial for us to make sure that people don't just get off the road for a minute.
And you're right, a lot of people don't have a place to go. So there were conflicting guidelines. First, we moved to bring everyone to recreation centers. They are fully utilized. We opened the first eight. We have 13 more en route to 42 of those we thought would accommodate 6,000 people. But the distance requirements have been changed so that there will now be around 2,000 people. We have 600 county hotel rooms.
And people have to understand that this is a shared responsibility. No city government can accommodate the homeless alone and cannot look after them in a health crisis. It really requires an increase in the districts, including state and federal funds. And the good news is, Governor (Gavin) Newsom, we received a $ 19 million check for homelessness policy and crisis response two days ago. As I said, there is money … in the (federal) package here for housing and homelessness. Seven billion, excuse me, not 30. So it's $ 7 billion. But for us, if we did the relationship with the homeless population, LA County should get about $ 700 million of it, which would be pretty helpful. And then of course the district has to help us in health care because the cities don't. But right now we need people who can monitor, care for and heal anyone who is an unaccomodated Angeleno before this spreads on the street.
BI: And do you have a current estimate of how many people are not yet accommodated in Los Angeles?
For example: Yes, in the city of Los Angeles, we estimate that there are approximately … approximately 31,000 homeless people in the city of Los Angeles. If you protect yourself against it, you have 23-24,000 in a given year. We estimate that there are probably 15,000 on the streets and we will lose about 2,000 of them.
BI: So 15,000 on the street. And after the answer to COVID-19, there are still about 13,000.
For example: Well, today. It's incredibly dynamic every day. The more money we get, the more money we can do. The more leases the district has with hotels and motels, the further we can reduce this number. So we don't have a fixed number. We try to do as much as possible.
And … the other contradictory advice is CDC also said camps should not be cleared. The way I read this is that they say that if there is no place for people, don't move camps that can actually move the virus. But that said, it is not clear whether they say yes, sheltered spaces are good, or everyone must have a room that is isolated. And doing that with 15,000 people will be impossible.
BI: And have we seen the spread of the virus in this population?
For example: Fortunately not yet. I am sure it is there because it is in every population. We haven't seen a disproportionate share yet, but it's a quickest place to spend, like wildfire in a place like Skid Row. So we have prepared and are preparing for it. We do a lot of screening on the street. We have LAPD, city workers, and others who check before anyone goes to shelters, and in shelters we protect shelter workers and use our limited testing to ensure that LAHSA (Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority) and shelter workers who exhibit the symptoms immediately tested on COVID-19.
BI: One of the measures the city council should take before suspending earlier this week was one that I believe is one of the main causes of homelessness in our city, namely housing costs. There has been a suggestion to freeze rent in LA during this crisis, and I'm just curious if you are considering taking executive action.
For example: This can be interpreted in two ways, so we're still trying to determine if that means people don't have to pay rent at all or there are no increases. Is it a freeze on the rent increase or no one has to pay the rent? If nobody has to pay the rent, it is not a power we have, nor would we have the power to do so to freeze the rent for something that is not rent stabilized. And most of our apartments are rent-stabilized, so we are checking whether we cannot currently impose rent increases or not. And I discussed this with the governor's office, my office, and some other mayors about whether there could be government measures to ensure this.
Without accompanying measures designed to help landlords not put their mortgages into arrears and so that banks don't run out of money, we need – you know, this is a series of dominoes. To tell people that nobody has to pay rent, and then to say to landlords, "Don't worry, you don't have to pay your mortgage" and then to tell the banks, "Don't worry, you will." "is a pretty big undertaking. I don't see that in the $ 2 trillion package that was just presented.
So just be realistic, but we said no one will be driven out. You have six months to pay your rent to prevent this. We can work something there. And I have banned some other evictions, for example, conversions in condominiums are prohibited two days ago. This was a legal way to get rid of your tenants in the past, and we considered what we could do with all of the apartments that are under our Rent Stabilization Ordinance. But Costa HawkinsThe state law (rent control) forbids us to do this in apartments that are in line with the market, even with emergency powers.
BI: While you, as you know, acknowledge the limits of your power, many people lose their jobs when there is a moratorium on eviction. While they may be able to stay in their homes for the next three months, they may not be able to pay the rent for three months. So what do you need to help Angelenos in this situation?
For example: Well, a number of things. Cash support, of course. One of the nice and best things is that if we get a federal aid package, people can still get paid or get the monetary help they can use to make basic payments for food and rent, such as their utilities. We tell people, "You are still responsible for these things," but of course they can be put off and hopefully we can work out payment plans. We certainly can with the Ministry of Water and Energy, which we control.
There are tens of thousands of private landlords, so finding a way to do it is difficult. But that's why we said six months that we believe give people room to breathe. And if history is a guide, the recovery from pandemics is actually sometimes faster economically than, for example, the stock market expected or predicted by others. So this is very fluid; we have to look at that. But now that cash is on the move and people have the certainty of not knowing that they have evictions, we only have to get through these first weeks before we can answer the months of questions.
BI: Continue how long you expect our current measures, such as B. On-site protection is permanent. I know that the LA Unified School District has announced that schools will be closed at least until May 1st. Can the rest of us expect to stay in our homes until then?
For example: Absolutely. I think that's at least two months and be prepared longer.
BI: And what keeps you awake at night?
For example: I could keep you busy for about an hour, but I'll try to work it out. I actually try to make sure I get my sleep because I have to have it to lead. But I think the most terrible thing I think is to keep every local guide awake, the projection of how many people will get it, the projection of how high the mortality rate will be and how many deaths we will have. I appreciate and work very hard on everything else, from economic suffering to the care of our first aiders to the transfer of our homeless people from the street to safe places.
Ultimately, the social distancing measure and how effective it will be is the most important thing any local leader can focus on. And if you put the numbers out, will we have hundreds and thousands of deaths, or will we have tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of deaths? That stops me. These are people who know everyone that each of us will know. It will be our friends, it will be our family, it will be people we love very much. And everything I do is through this lens. Everything else can be rebuilt, everything else can be replaced, but a life can never be replaced.
BI: Is there any reason for optimism at this point, or is it simply hurting more people? Because we see it at the national level, optimism that we'll get back to business in a few weeks. Do such platitudes help or is it just naive?
For example: We have to keep hope, but our hope has to be based on data. We cannot have premature optimism that endangers people's lives. I can't say that enough. Giving people false hope will destroy their mood and kill more people. It will destroy their spirits, change their actions … sorry. Will destroy their spirits, undo their actions and kill more people.
But of course we have to have hope. Of course there are beautiful sun rays the generosity of people and help each other, the time we spend together. This will not kill most of us. It will kill a lot more people than we are used to dying around us. And that's a difficult room. Not knowing who it will be, not knowing exactly when it will be, but knowing that it will be. But absolutely there are enormous rays of sun streaming through these dark clouds. And even though we know that the clouds don't go away so quickly, Rabbi told me this morning, my Rabbi, that we formed a small prayer circle and he said: "The shadow of the valley of death, the shadows can only exist as evidence of this is light. "So when we walk through this valley, we know that there is light and it will be there in the end.
BI: I just want to conclude with one final question: when people talk about returning to normal, there will be a return to normal life in Los Angeles as we knew it before, or it will change Los Angeles and the country fundamentally ?
For example: I think this will be a crucial moment in our lives and we will definitely change. Some of the ways we are likely to do business and our relationships will change, but I think we will fundamentally return to a prosperous and strong city where we can not only get out of our homes, but embrace again. and do great and brave things.
I fully expect and this is not based on some Pollyanna wishes. I have read a lot in the past few weeks, looking at 1918 and the places most affected by epidemics in other parts of the world. People come back. People have a persistence, not only a will to survive that we demonstrate, but also a will to thrive. And I see 100% of these days for Los Angeles.
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