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Surging LA
Postcard From Los Angeles

Surging LA

Eight months after California Healthline’s Heidi de Marco photographed LA under lockdown, she returned to the same iconic spots. Vehicle and foot traffic are up — as are coronavirus cases.

March 2020 (Heidi de Marco/KHN)
November 2020: Cars wait at the corner of Hollywood and Highland, a bustling intersection that was deserted in March. Some shops on Hollywood Boulevard are open to the public, but many remain shuttered. (Heidi de Marco/KHN)

On a Monday afternoon in March, four days after Gov. Gavin Newsom issued the nation’s first statewide stay-at-home order to slow the spread of the coronavirus, some of Southern California’s most famous landmarks were deserted and few cars traveled the region’s notoriously congested freeways.

Eight months later, businesses are open, traffic is back — and COVID-19 cases in the state are surging. 

“This is simply the fastest increase California has seen since the beginning of this pandemic,” Newsom said in a press conference Monday, when he announced a major rollback of the state’s reopening process, saying the state’s daily case numbers had doubled in the previous 10 days.

That same day, California Healthline’s Heidi de Marco returned to the landmarks she photographed in March. This time, it took her nearly two days — Monday and Tuesday — to document them because of traffic.

The biggest change was the greater number of vehicles on the road. Foot traffic had also stepped up, but most pedestrians and shoppers were wearing masks and not gathering in large numbers.

It turns out that activities such as strolling along the beach and window-shopping are not the primary way the disease is spreading in Los Angeles County. Public health officials there blame the surge on an increase in social gatherings, such as private dinners and sports-watching parties with people from multiple households, and the virus is spreading mostly among adults ages 18 to 29. In a bid to slow the virus, county public health director Barbara Ferrer announced additional restrictions on businesses, effective Friday. Among them, outdoor dining and drinking at restaurants and breweries will be limited to 50% of capacity, and outdoor gatherings can include only 15 people from no more than three households, including the host’s household.

March 2020 (Heidi de Marco/KHN)
November 2020: The TCL Chinese Theatre shops are open for business in Hollywood, but the theater itself is closed. (Heidi de Marco/KHN)
March 2020: Pedro Castro used to book about 20 bus tour tickets on Hollywood Boulevard per day, he said, but ticket sales fell dramatically right after the shutdown. (Heidi de Marco/KHN)
November 2020: The Hollywoodland Experience shop is empty Monday afternoon. The tour guide stationed outside the store, who didn’t want to be photographed or named, said business is steady but not nearly as heavy as before the pandemic. (Heidi de Marco/KHN)
March 2020 (Heidi de Marco/KHN)
November 2020: The Hollywood Freeway started to get busy at about 3:30 p.m. Monday and cars were moving fast. It was bumper-to-bumper by 5:30 p.m., hitting peak gridlock later than in pre-pandemic days — but still much busier than in March. (Heidi de Marco/KHN)
March 2020 (Heidi de Marco/KHN)
November 2020: Some shops on Olvera Street remain closed, but most restaurants are open and offer outside seating for customers. (Heidi de Marco/KHN)
March 2020: Ricardo Gaytan, a cook at Cielito Lindo on Olvera Street, said he feared that with only a few customers a day, the restaurant could close completely. (Heidi de Marco/KHN)
November 2020: Gaytan now wears a mask while working and stands behind a plexiglass barrier when taking orders. The restaurant has remained open during the pandemic, he said, and business is steady. He said he has had to deal with only a few customers who didn’t want to wear a mask. (Heidi de Marco/KHN)
March 2020 (Heidi de Marco/KHN)
November 2020: People wander through the Rodeo Drive Walk of Style in Beverly Hills, which is again open to the public. Most people wore masks as they visited the stores that were open. (Heidi de Marco/KHN)
November 2020: The city of Santa Monica has closed its famous pier to cars. (Heidi de Marco/KHN)
November 2020: People are allowed to walk onto the pier as long as they wear a face covering.(Heidi de Marco/KHN)
November 2020: Despite the haze, a handful of people work out at Muscle Beach in Santa Monica on Tuesday afternoon. (Heidi de Marco/KHN)
November 2020: Beachgoers said they didn’t feel the need to wear a mask since they were outside, and because wearing a mask makes it harder to breathe while working out.(Heidi de Marco/KHN)
March 2020 (Heidi de Marco/KHN)
November 2020: There weren’t many customers at Randy’s Donuts in Inglewood on Tuesday, but the shop is hiring. (Heidi de Marco/KHN)

KHN correspondent Anna Almendrala contributed to this report.

This story was produced by KHN, which publishes California Healthline, an editorially independent service of the California Health Care Foundation.