Density, poverty keep Los Angeles struggling against virus

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Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

A face mask is discarded on a sidewalk during the coronavirus outbreak in the Westlake neighborhood of Los Angeles, Thursday, May 21, 2020. While most of California took another step forward to partly reopen in time for Memorial Day weekend, Los Angeles County didn't join the party because the number of coronavirus cases has grown at a pace that leaves it unable to meet even the new, relaxed state standards for allowing additional businesses and recreational activities. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

LOS ANGELES – While most of California welcomed more places to eat, shop and play this holiday weekend, Los Angeles did not join the party.

The nation’s most populous county is not planning to reopen more widely until the next summer holiday, July 4th, because it has a disproportionately large share of the state's coronavirus cases and can't meet even new, relaxed state standards for allowing additional businesses and recreational activities.

Los Angeles County, with a quarter of the state’s nearly 40 million residents, accounts for nearly half of its COVID-19 cases, and more than 55% of the state’s more than 3,600 deaths.

In recent days, death and hospitalization trends have improved, but on Friday the White House coronavirus response coordinator named LA as a region where spread of the virus is a concern. Dr. Deborah Birx asked the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to help look into the source of new cases to help prevent future outbreaks.

Los Angeles is among a small number of California's 58 counties that either have not sufficiently contained the virus to reopen more activities and commerce or, in the case of several San Francisco Bay Area counties, have chosen to move more slowly.

Density is at the heart of LA's problem — in nursing homes that have recorded about half the county's deaths and in some of the nation's most tightly packed poor neighborhoods where Latino and African-Americans suffer a disproportionate number of infections and deaths.

Unlike compact New York City, which has been the nation’s coronavirus epicenter, Los Angeles and the surrounding county sprawl into suburbia and many communities of single-family homes. That lack of density, highest in wealthy areas, and reliance on cars as the main way to get around serve as shields from the virus.

But many in large inner-city swaths live an opposite reality. Multiple generations sometimes share an apartment. Essential low-wage workers don't have the luxury to telecommute. Grocery stores and pharmacies are scarce and fewer people with cars means more rely on buses, rail, bicycles or getting a ride, all situations where they often can’t adequately separate themselves from others.