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GUEST EDITORIAL: Partying our way to more coronavirus death and destruction?

The Los Angeles Times Editorial Board (TNS)

After weeks of bad coronavirus news, Californians glimpsed a sliver of hope this week: The average number of people hospitalized or admitted to the ICU with COVID-19 infections has declined over the last two weeks. Infections might have ebbed significantly as well, but we won’t know for sure until the state fixes a data collection foul-up.

While there are still problem areas, the new data suggest that measures taken in June to close down some businesses that had recently reopened and limit others to outdoor operations have succeeded in slowing the resurgence of infections that began around Memorial Day. If this trend continues, it means that the average number of daily deaths, which lags behind the changes in infections and hospitalizations, will also decline. Nationwide, the picture is looking brighter as well, with infection hot spots such as Florida, Arizona and Texas seeing new cases decline after state officials enacted similar restrictions.

However hopeful, this is not the time to celebrate the beginning of the end of the pandemic. For one thing, there will be no end until there’s a widely available vaccine, or vaccines, taken by a sufficient percentage of people. Or until everyone who can be infected has been, whichever comes first. Indeed, Californians were at this point just three months ago, and we saw how well that turned out. Within weeks, hope turned to despair as complacency and caution fatigue opened the door wide for COVID-19.

This transmission electron microscope image shows SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, isolated from a patient in the U.S., emerging from the surface of cells cultured in the lab. (NIAID/TNS)

Nor is this a moment to relax our collective vigilance. Yet that’s what about 200 people did Monday night in the Hollywood Hills, in direct violation of county public health orders. Television footage from helicopters hovering over the party at a Mulholland Drive mansion showed dozens of people apparently not practicing social distancing or wearing face masks. Astoundingly, police officers called to the scene did not break it up; instead, they returned hours later, after shots rang out. Tragically, four people were injured and one died, and there could be more death to come as a result of the hours spent together in close quarters. 

If this were a lone instance, it wouldn’t cause undue concern. However, a number of house parties have cropped up around Los Angeles’ hilly neighborhoods and other areas after bars and nightclubs were ordered closed, authorities report.

In normal times, mass gatherings at rented mansions are a regular headache for the Hollywood Hills, where neighbors complain of noise, traffic and clogged streets. But during an outbreak of an infectious disease, the harm can ripple far more widely. California Health and Human Services Secretary Mark Ghaly said Tuesday that such an event can jeopardize the state’s efforts to keep infection rates in check. Good going, people!

Partying in the face of a pandemic isn’t just foolish; it’s a giant slap in the face to everyone who has followed the rules, even at great personal cost, in order to protect the larger community.

Los Angeles officials are grappling with ways to stop the parties, or at least punish property owners who allow their homes to be used for illicit gatherings. Good. We’re not in favor of arresting people for violating pandemic restrictions, but authorities must figure out how to discourage this kind of dangerously irresponsible activity. Neither California nor the country are out of the woods yet. The coronavirus is still very much present, with more waves potentially to come. How well we fare will depend entirely on us.

— The Los Angeles Times Editorial Board