I caught up with Garcetti by phone on Wednesday, when the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Los Angeles County had just edged to 800. He described his rationale for the order this way: “When it feels wrong, it’s the time to do it. By the time it feels right, it’s too late.” Our conversation has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
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Todd Purdum: What is your biggest concern?
Eric Garcetti: My biggest concern right now is people dying—a hospital system that will, in its insufficiency, cause us to choose between life and death for people who otherwise could have been saved. There are many things that keep me up, and many things that are extremely damaging—economically, socially—but foremost, it’s the saving of lives and the tidal wave that’s coming.
Purdum: Your order bars nonessential businesses from operating, but not everyone is complying. You’ve said city lawyers will give warnings, but you’re prepared to enforce the order by shutting off city power and water to violators.
Garcetti: Yeah, and have the police shut them down too. I want to be clear: Police will come and tell them to shut things down … Businesses that continue to operate, we will literally shut them down. We can’t be at every business all the time, and if they keep popping up, we will just take care of it that way.
Purdum: What is the city’s capacity of intensive-care beds and ventilators, and where do you stand, say, in comparison to New York?
Garcetti: We are, depending on how you calculate it, six to 12 days behind New York … If you just look at the raw numbers, if we have the same rate of increase that we’re experiencing the last couple of days, it would be about 12 days, but we’ve had some days in which the rate of increase is faster.
That said, we implemented, at this same parallel point in time, our distancing measures more extremely and more quickly, which is not to be critical of New York. We were just lucky enough to have done it.
[In Los Angeles County] there are 22,318 beds [in total]. There are available right now 743 medical-surgical beds, 433 telemetry beds [capable of cardiac monitoring], 222 ICU beds, and 91 isolation beds. We have just under 900 ventilators county-wide. Essentially, we’re thinking about this as without borders between city and county. In fact, for L.A., you really should be thinking San Bernardino, Riverside, Orange, and Ventura [Counties] too—and so that’s a 19-million-person city.
Purdum: This is a huge, diverse state—with some extremely rural areas, areas that are the political equivalent of red states. Has it been hard for Governor Newsom and the state government to deal with those disparities when it comes to stay-at-home orders?
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Garcetti: I spoke to the governor [last week, when L.A. issued its stay-at-home order]. I urged him that this was a moment for lifesaving measures, and he could be a difference maker. I said—and I say this to mayors across the country too—cities are looking for Mom or Dad to tell them right now [what to do]. It’s not every day that you take actions that can save lives in your city. But I absolutely think it was something that the governor wrestled with, and I’m very proud of him for being the first governor in the country to do it.