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Los Angeles Mayor Asks Residents To Wear Makeshift Face Masks

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti. (Damian Dovarganes/AP)
Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti. (Damian Dovarganes/AP)

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti requested Thursday that all city residents wear makeshift masks in public to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

The mayor says it’s an announcement he’s wanted to make for a few days, drawing inspiration from countries like Taiwan and the Czech Republic where a culture of mask-wearing has coincided with lower COVID-19 case numbers.

“Research shows that in varying degrees even something like a bandana, as long as it’s tucked in…can help stop the spread of droplets,” he says.

But Garcetti clarifies that residents who are not health care workers shouldn’t use the medical-grade N95 masks. Those masks, which are in alarmingly short supply, should go to medical professionals who need to protect themselves from the virus, he says.

The California mayor also addresses more challenges the state faces: low testing numbers and homelessness. He says he “took the bull by the horns” and instituted drive-thru testing at eight sites in the city to increase the speed and rate of testing.

As for homelessness, Garcetti says the city is working on housing homeless Angelenos in vacant hotel and motel rooms, recognizing that the population is among the city’s most vulnerable to COVID-19. The city has also opened more homeless shelters, where temperatures are checked before potential residents enter.

Interview Highlights

On why he’s requested all LA residents wear masks

“While we know that the COVID virus is smaller than many of the pores in masks, and think the metaphor we’ve all been using is, a football player might be able to get through that doorway, but when there’s five or six trying to get through, even a larger space can help, and anything that can help right now will save lives.”

On enforcing the stay-at-home order or mask wearing

“Well, we’re certainly enforcing stay-at-home. We’ve visited over 540 businesses with our ambassadors’ program, with police if necessary, and we’ve even referred eight for criminal charges. You know, a smoke shop that just ignores the police. And we’re shutting down the water and power of businesses that refuse to abide by the stay-at-home order. But no, with the masks right now, we want to educate people, give folks a chance to get them, and because Los Angeles is an apparel manufacturing center of America, we’re working with hundreds of companies locally that have sewers and sewing machines. We’ve come up with the designs, and they’re creating these masks as well as a larger project called “L.A. Protects” in which 3D printers and architects and some of our manufacturing assembly line are being retooled for other protective equipment for medical personnel, frontline workers, first responders and others.”

 On how soon California could ramp up testing to match other states

“It’s a hugely frustrating thing for all of us. As a local official there’s really nobody who’s “in charge” of testing. You go to counties who often take care of health care and have public hospitals, but they don’t take care of private hospitals and nonprofit ones. Cities generally don’t have health departments, but I kind of took the bull by the horns so at least in the city of LA, for almost two weeks now we’ve been doing testing that our firefighters, our staffing, people can now drive up. We have eight of these sites. 

“Per capita, we’re about one out of every 200 people by probably the end of today in this city will have been tested. And, you know, we’re having to find the labs, find the tests, find the swabs, find the equipment, find the personnel and set these things up. I’m very proud of what we’ve done in the city of LA, but I think you’re right, you look up and down California, a huge state, and many places don’t have those resources, might not have their own fire department, medical personnel are already stretched thin. This is one of those moments when we really do need national leadership, and to say that everybody who wants a test can have one obviously has not been the truth for weeks. But now, we are meeting capacity and each day the number of people who sign up online and get those tests is growing. We’ve doubled it every single week for the last couple weeks and we hope to double it again next week.”

 On protecting LA’s homeless population

“This is a huge concern for me. LA County has about 60,000 [people who are homeless]. We have a little over 30,000 in the city here. And about in late January, I asked my team to start planning because these were going to be the most susceptible and vulnerable people when it came to this virus. Susceptible because they’re out there on the street, and vulnerable because they have, many times, underlying medical conditions that can make them more likely to die from this. So we have a historic number of shelters that we have opened up. 

“And thousands of motel or hotel rooms, which we are now in the process of securing, over a thousand of them already as we speak, where people with symptoms can be put. We have trailers also, over 500 of them, travel trailers, where people can, who are in any of the congregate shelters that are properly spaced but nevertheless can have symptoms, can immediately be put some place and be isolated.”

Francesca Paris produced and edited this interview for broadcast with Tinku Ray. Lynsey Jeffrey adapted it for the web.

This article was originally published on WBUR.org.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.