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.

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."

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