Los Angeles mayor warns of mass death, condemns 'false hope'

Los Angeles residents will be confined to their homes until May, at the earliest, Mayor Eric Garcetti told Insider on Wednesday.

"I think this is at least two months," he said, "and be prepared for longer."

In an interview with Insider, Garcetti pushed back against "premature optimism" in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, saying leaders who suggest we are on the verge of business-as-usual are putting lives at risk.

"I can't say that strongly enough," the mayor said. Optimism, he said, has to be grounded in data. And right now the data is not good.

"Giving people false hope will crush their spirits and will kill more people," Garcetti said, noting it will change their actions, instilling a sense of normalcy — and normal behaviors — at the most abnormal time in a generation.

"This will not kill most of us," he noted. But, "It will kill a lot more people than we're used to dying around us."

On Tuesday, Garcetti said the city was anywhere from six to 12 days away from the fate of New York City, where a surge in patients with the novel coronavirus is threatening to overwhelm the health system. 

As of noon on Tuesday, Los Angeles County public health officials said there were 662 confirmed cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, with 11 confirmed deaths. The actual numbers are no doubt higher, with officials only recently beginning to roll out testing.

Los Angeles, where intensive-care units were 90% filled long before the expected peak of the COVID-19 outbreak, is no better prepared. In the weeks to come, Garcetti said everything from convention centers to sports arenas, such as the Staples Center, may need to be converted into space for hospital beds.

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Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti speaks during the final night of the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S. July 28, 2016.

(REUTERS/Mike Segar)

Los Angeles mayor Eric Garcetti introduces U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton during a community forum on counter terrorism and homeland security in Los Angeles, California March 24, 2016.

(REUTERS/David McNew)

US Vice President Joe Biden laughs as Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti speaks to workers at Bobrick Washroom Equipment, including longtime employee Rigo hernandez, in Los Angeles on July 22, 2015, where Biden came to discuss the 'importance of increasing the minimum wage to give anyone who works hard every day the chance to earn a livable wage.''

(FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images)

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti gestures while posing with former Los Angeles Laker Kobe Bryant, joined by his family and city officials after Bryant was honored at a city council meeting with Kobe Bryant Day on August 24, 2016 in Los Angeles, California, with the date commemorating the 2 numbers, 8 and 24, he wore on his Lakers jersey spanning a 20-year career.

(FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images)

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and his wife Amy Wakeland pose as they arrive for a dinner gala at The Broad Museum in Los Angeles, California, September 17, 2015. The new museum built by philanthropists Eli and Edythe Broad, featuring their collection of modern art, will open to the public on September 20.

(REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni)

Ryan Murphy, Jamie Lee Curtis and Mayor Eric Garcetti attend the 9th annual Film In California Conference at CBS Studios on May 21, 2016 in Los Angeles, California.

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Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and actor Efren Ramirez attend the mitu T.A.C.O. Challenge on May 7, 2016 in Los Angeles, California.

(Photo by Rachel Murray/Getty Images for mitu)

LA Mayor Eric Garcetti with the golden ticket at Los Angeles Convention Center on October 29, 2016 in Los Angeles, California.

(Photo by Renard Garr/FilmMagic)

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While concerned about the economic fallout, more than anything, Garcetti said, he's worried about the irreplaceable loss of life that's predicted with this pandemic.

"I think the main horrifying thing that I think is keeping every local leader awake is the projection of how many people will get this, the projection of what the mortality rate will be, and how many dead will have," Garcetti said. "Will we have hundreds of thousands of deaths or tens of thousands of deaths? That's what keeps us up."

"It will be our friends. It will be our family. It will be people who we love dearly," he said. "And everything I do is through that lens."

Have a news tip? Email this reporter: cdavis@insider.com

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