Los Angeles County Issues “Safer at Home” Order Aimed at Drastically Limiting Contact Between Persons
On March 19, 2020, Los Angeles County health officials issued a public health order, which now applies in addition to Governor Newsom’s statewide order.
In an effort to slow the spread of the Coronavirus (COVID-19), Los Angeles County health officials issued a mandatory order (the “Order”) on March 19, 2020, aimed at severely restricting social gatherings and enforcing infection control precautions. This Order supplements Governor Newsom’s statewide order, which was also issued yesterday. (We previously issued an Alert on the Governor’s order, which is available here.)
The Order, with certain important exemptions, generally prohibits “all indoor public and private gatherings and all outdoor public and private events within a confined space, where at least 10 people are expected to be in attendance at the same time,” and specifically requires that all indoor malls, shopping centers, indoor and outdoor playgrounds, and “Non-Essential Retail Businesses” close. The Order supersedes a previous order issued by Los Angeles County health officials on March 16, 2020, which generally prohibited gatherings of more than 50 people and mandated the closure of bars, nightclubs, theaters, gyms and other certain non-essential businesses.
The Order went into effect at 11:59 p.m. on March 19, 2020, and will be enforced through April 19, 2020 (notably, the Order does not apply to the cities of Pasadena and Long Beach, which issued their own orders). Residents of Los Angeles County were given approximately seven hours’ notice before the Order took effect. A violation of the Order is a misdemeanor punishable by a fine and/or jail time.
For purposes of school districts, charter schools, the Los Angeles County Office of Education, community college districts and colleges/universities (“school employers”), the following features of the Order are of particular note:
The Order does not require “Essential Businesses,” including schools and colleges, to close. The Order identifies 23 classes of “Essential Businesses,” including “educational institutions,” that are not subject to immediate disclosure. For purposes of the Order, “educational institutions” specifically include public and private K-12 schools, colleges and universities, though we believe charter schools and the Los Angeles County Office of Education are also included within that term. The Order further directs that, although allowed to remain open, all educational institutions practice “social distancing of six feet of space between persons . . . to the greatest extent possible.”
The Order considers an educational institution an “Essential Business” only to the extent it is (1) facilitating distance learning or (2) performing “essential functions.” Notably, the Order does not define what constitutes an “essential function,” seemingly indicating that each individual educational institution may make its own determination as to what this means. School employers that have not done so already must determine what constitutes an “essential function” as quickly as possible and identify which employees are performing such functions. Additionally, school employers should consider whether services provided by contractors and support entities, rather than their own employees – such as professional services (including legal services), maintenance, or information technology support services, to name a few – are also “essential functions” that should be included within these designations.
Other “Essential Businesses” identified in the Order that may include operations conducted by school employers include:
- Childcare facilities providing services that “enable employees exempted in [the Order] to work as permitted.” In order for such childcare facilities to operate under the Order they must, “[t]o the extent possible,” operate under the following conditions: “(1) Childcare must be carried out in stable groups of 12 or fewer (‘stable’ means the same 12 or fewer children are in the same group each day); (2) Children shall not change from one group to another; (3) If more than one group of children is cared for at one facility, each group shall be in a separate room. Groups shall not mix with each other; [and] (4) Childcare providers shall remain solely with one group of children.”
- Businesses that provide food, shelter, and social services, and other necessities of life for economically disadvantaged or otherwise needy individuals.
- Restaurants and “other food facilities” that prepare and serve food, but only for delivery, drive thru, or carry out.
- Home-based care for seniors, adults, disabled persons, or children.
- Residential facilities and shelters for seniors, adults, disabled persons, and children.
In addition to the above “Essential Businesses,” the Order does not apply to healthcare operations as well as “public works construction.”
With certain exceptions, all indoor public and private gatherings, and all outdoor public and private events within a confined space, cannot exceed 10 people. As noted below, however, the Order provides an exception to this general rule for those persons in “attendance at regular school classes,” “work[ing] at Essential Businesses” and “essential governmental services, such as access to court, social and administrative services.” “Essential businesses” include “educational institutions” such as schools, colleges, and universities. Accordingly, we believe that school employers engaged in essential activities are not covered by the 10-person limitation contained in the Order.
Separately, the Order also provides for limitations on gatherings of nine people or less, including the implementation of certain “infection control precautions” that require venues/employers to:
(1) practice social distancing within the confined space by requiring attendees to be separated by six feet, to the extent feasible;
(2) provide access to hand washing facilities with soap and water or hand sanitizer that contains at least 60 percent alcohol;
(3) post a sign in a conspicuous place at the public entry to the venue instructing members of the public to not attend if they are experiencing symptoms of respiratory illness, including fever or cough; and
(4) adhere to communicable disease control recommendations provided by the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health.
While the language in the Order on this point is not entirely clear, we advise that all Essential Businesses in Los Angeles County, including educational institutions, comply with these infection control precautions.
One requirement that may be new for some school employers is the need to post a notice at a conspicuous place at the public entrance instructing that persons should not enter if they are experiencing symptoms of respiratory illness, including fever or cough.
Finally, it is also important to be mindful of the Governor’s “stay at home” order of March 19, 2020, which may affect the applicability of portions of this Order. School employers should comply with both the Governor’s Order and any local orders — like that issued in Los Angeles County — which apply in their locality.