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A protest in Los Angeles on July 1 drew thousands of people hours after California governor Gavin Newsom discouraged residents from holding Independence Day gatherings with anyone outside an immediate household.
A photo published by the LAPD showed protesters standing shoulder to shoulder, with many wearing masks. Los Angeles has seen a resurgence of coronavirus cases over the past week, leading some businesses to reduce or shut operations.
Los Angeles police have not issued permits for mass gatherings since March 3, when Mayor Eric Garcetti issued an executive order forbidding such gatherings because of the coronavirus pandemic. However, police have not intervened to break up the gatherings. The protests are part of a wave of demonstrations in response to the death of George Floyd, an African American man killed during arrest by Minneapolis police officers, has sparked waves of massive demonstrations in major cities across the U.S.
Newsom’s executive order on Wednesday required restaurants and museums to shift to outdoor operations in 19 counties, with bars closing entirely. While large family gatherings are technically forbidden, the governor acknowledged that enforcing that rule would be impossible.
“You have 40 million people in the state of California, and if 40 million people turn their back on these guidelines and common sense, that is not something we can enforce,” Newsom said at a press conference. “No one is naive about that.”
Los Angeles County public health director Dr. Barbara Ferrer urged residents during a Wednesday press briefing to avoid crowded situations. When asked if county officials had downplayed the risk of contracting coronavirus at mass protests, Dr. Ferrer said that health workers’ recommendations for avoiding crowds applied to any mass gathering.
“In situations where people are close together for longer periods of time, and it’s very crowded, we are certain that there is going to be spread,” Dr. Ferrer said. “We have never said that there’s no spread from people who are protesting, and we have, in fact, said that those very same conditions that allow for spread among people who may be protesting apply in all kinds of other situations as well.”
Los Angeles County Supervisor Kathryn Barger said last week that she believed the current spike in coronavirus cases in the area were connected to increased protests.
“I definitely think there’s a direct correlation between the protesters and the spike,” Barger told the local CBS affiliate. “I mean, obviously, the opening up probably threw something into it.” Barger added that the size of the crowds made contact tracing for coronavirus almost impossible.
Los Angeles beaches will be closed and the city will feature no fireworks or block parties for Independence Day.
“Yes, this weekend is a holiday weekend. As much as we all want to celebrate with friends and family, gathering with people outside of our households is not permitted and puts everyone at risk of COVID-19,” the Los Angeles County administration warned residents on Twitter earlier this week. “Protect yourself and others by avoiding gatherings this July 4th.”