The Burbank Chamber of Commerce hosted a virtual chat on Thursday with Los Angeles County Supervisor Kathryn Barger, who addressed COVID-19, the economic fallout from the pandemic and protests.
Barger wanted to clarify statistics pertaining to the coronavirus and assure the chamber and public that the county is hard at work to help the local economy recover from businesses shutting down because of the Safer at Home directives.
“This pandemic has truly been devastating to the health and economy of the county, as you all know,” she said. “ … The county and its residents have done a great job in flattening the curve, and I know it’s been painful for many people. By all accounts we have kept the case numbers low, prevented our health-care system from being overwhelmed and are moving into the stages of recovery.”
There has been a recent spike in COVID-19 cases, increasing the total number to 68,875 and 2,813 deaths as of June 11.
However, Barger attributed the surge in cases to the fact that more people are getting tested and the spread rate has gone down.
“Prior to the civil unrest, the spread rate for every one person that was positive was less than one person that would come in contact and possibly get it,” said Barger, who also informed the chamber the positive rate has remained at 8%. “At the beginning of Safer at Home, for every one person who had COVID, it was spread to about five people. So we truly did slow it down.”
She did express concern for a possible increase in coronavirus cases with the recent protests.
“I’m very concerned what the impact is going to be,” Barger added. “I’m hoping for the best but we have to prepare for the worst.”
Protesters in Burbank and around the nation have demanded justice for the recent killing of George Floyd — a black man who died after being pinned down by a Minneapolis police officer for almost nine minutes — and condemned the use of excessive force by police officers, most notably against the black community.
Barger acknowledged that more needs to be invested in the community but does not agree with defunding law enforcement.
“We’ve all felt the immense weight of what’s been going on over the past few weeks,” said Barger, who also said it was painful to issue curfews because of concerns of looting. “It’s obvious that demanding justice and reform are necessary and residents have made their voice [heard]. I personally am not one of the people that believes defunding law enforcement is the right way to go. It should not be an ‘either or;’ it should be an ‘and.’ It should be investing in the community but recognizing that our first responders, our law enforcement are there for public safety and are there to keep our community safe.
“So I’m not buying into the concept of defunding law enforcement because I think it’s a step back, especially when you look at the ratio of officers to population in Los Angeles County. One would argue we are understaffed as it relates to public safety. So I think we need to do a better job of investigating our communities, especially communities of color where it’s been disproportionately shown that the impact of not only COVID but even of the violence going on has taken a toll. … I am proud of L.A. County and the fact that we are very focused on equality and civil rights.”
Barger relayed that the county is doing its best to assist homeowners, renters and businesses that have been affected by the pandemic.
She said the eviction moratorium and assistance was signed in March to “ensure residents impacted financially and by public health orders would not find themselves without shelter. Our hope was people would do the right thing and most tenants and landlords would discuss a payment plan that worked for both parties.”
Home sales have dropped 35%, mortgage rates are down as well as rent prices, and personal spending decreased 17% from February through April. However, personal savings has gone up, according to Barger, who is part of the Economic Resiliency Task Force working to develop “fast-track plans for economic reopening and recovery by July 4.”
“It is important for us to recognize that we got a long road ahead of us,” she said. “We got a lot of challenges, but as someone who is born and raised in the state, I know that we are up to those challenges. And if I know that if we all work together, we are going to get through this and we’re going to get through it stronger and, actually, I believe better.”