Flashback to March 2020. With a strange virus in the air, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti made a vital, early decision on the fate of one of Los Angeles’ biggest and most beloved events: The L.A. Marathon.
In what became an often-repeated quote in the days leading up to the March 8 competition, the mayor said: “There’s no reason to cancel it, but we ask people to just make sure that they’re being safe, make sure they’re washing their hands, make sure they’re keeping the right distances.”
The decision raised many eyebrows that day. Some even all-out twitter-slammed Garcetti for allowing the race, operated by the McCourt Foundation, to go on. Just a few days earlier, on March 4, Garcetti stood with L.A. County Public Health Barbara Ferrer and other local officials who, citing an “abundance of caution,” announced a state of emergency in L.A. County.
“If you’re sick with anything, we need people to stay home,” Ferrer said, her department just having recorded six new cases in 48 hours.
Four days later, more than 27,000 would fill the City of the Angels’ streets for the big run.
The irony wasn’t lost on L.A. when just days after the marathon, on March 12, 2020, Garcetti would stand with other local leaders who called for postponing or canceling events that attract more than 50 people.
And then, three days later, Garcetti ordered a clampdown that would change L.A. forever: Bars were ordered closed. Restaurants halted indoor dining. And more shutdowns would come soon thereafter.
Flash-forward to November 2021. More than 13,000 runners from all 50 states and from all over the world will gather at Dodger Stadium on Sunday for the rekindled run, delayed from March.
Everything is being billed as different this year. Vaccines. Protocols. Retooled route. Masks.
The runners, and thousands of spectators, will see a different route and a different scene at the finish line.
No longer will the race end at the Santa Monica Pier, its traditional ending point. The marathon’s new “Stadium to the Stars” course launches at Dodger Stadium per usual, then rolls through West Hollywood and Beverly Hills. But when the race hits Brentwood, it will make a kind of U-turn and double back on San Vicente, Sepulveda and Santa Monica boulevards, then wrap up at Avenue of the Stars in Century City, in front of the grandstands.
Much like pre-pandemic years, there will be bleachers at the finish line. Even a concert. And a beer garden.
The giant event itself has been on its own journey since Garcetti’s March 2020 decision to let it happen in the early days of the outbreak. In January, the planned March event was rescheduled as a winter surge ravaging the region. The goal was to hold it in May, pending the approval of health authorities. But it didn’t happen. It was rescheduled for this weekend.
“We know we were one of the lucky races able to run in 2020, when so many were postponed. And now to be the last big city marathon in the U.S. (of the year) is going to be special,” said Dan Cruz, spokesman for the giant race.
This year’s race, though, has a lot more going for it than last year’s, in terms of public health, experts say.
It comes at a time when 80% of the county ‘s resident12 and older have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, and the event organizers “have gone to great lengths” to bake in safety protocols that organizers scurried to produce back in March 2020.
“They’ve made a lot of modifications so that the runners will be safe,” Ferrer said., noting the reduced risk of transmission outdoors. “And, of course, in terms of spectators, it’s up to all of us to keep our distance if we’re in crowded places, as always. … It’s a long route, so people have plenty of opportunity to spread out.”
“The good thing is, when they’re running, they’re often are not very close to everybody else for extended periods of time, and that too will make it safer for the athletes,” she said.
“So I feel comfortable,” she said.
Top among modifications include requirements mandated under the county’s health order.
The marathon is requiring proof of full vaccination or a negative COVID test for all participants, staff, volunteers, media and spectators entering the starting area at Dodger Stadium. Face coverings will also be required in the starting area, and will be recommended in all other areas, like at the finish line and related events, like a concert later in the day.
Race participants will have to submit their proof of vaccination or negative test on Friday or Saturday at the event’s Health and Fitness Expo, and they will receive a verification band.
Also, the race will be limited to around 13,000 participants.
Such limitations are a long way from last year, when Garcetti — making decisions amid still sparse and elusive facts about the virus — was urging people to “wash their hands, make sure they’re keeping the right distances … run your free lane and don’t hug everybody afterwards.”
Race officials also decided to defer until 2021 any runner traveling from China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Italy, South Korea and Iran —all countries where the U.S. Department of State has issued a “do not travel to” advisory. Hand-sanitizer stations were placed at the race expo, the start line, along the route and at the finish festival.
Garcetti, of course, was among many public leaders making such decisions based on limited facts, experts say. His clampdown after the marathon showed just how quickly those facts can change — which officials and the public would come to know over the next year and half.
“Had we known we were going to be on a continued increasing slope, we might have decided to postpone at that time,” said Dr. Robert Kim-Farley, an epidemiologist at UCLA’s Fielding School of Public Health and an expert in eradicating communicable disease. “Had it been two weeks later it might have been a different situation.”
And we were dealing with a virus we didn’t know.
“The knowledge about the virus and its transmission were in its early stages, and rapidly evolving,” Kim-Farley said.
But he acknowledged that the public health community could have done better early on letting the public know that guidance at one particular point in time is subject to change, when dealing with a pandemic.
Garcetti himself could not be reached for comment. He is recovering from coronavirus, which his office announced on Nov. 3 he had tested positive for while on a trip to Scotland attending a UN conference on climate change. He was still there on Thursday.
So-called breakthrough infections among fully vaccinated people are still considered uncommon, although vaccinated people can spread the virus to others. According to the state COVID database, from Oct.18-24, unvaccinated people were 6.8 times more likely to get COVID-19 than fully vaccinated people.
Experts say COVID-19 vaccines reduce the severity of such cases and remain highly effective against hospitalizations and death, even as the extra-contagious delta variant continues to sweep the country.
Garcetti has championed vaccines and other measures to combat the spread of the coronavirus.
The LA City Council has also passed an array of measures intended to stave off the pandemic.
Citywide mandates are scheduled go into effect on Monday, requiring patrons to show evidence of vaccination to enter restaurants, bars, coffee shops, breweries, wineries, gyms, spas, nail salons and barbershops in Los Angeles, along with movie theaters and shopping malls.
Angelenos patronizing indoor restaurants, gyms, entertainment and recreational facilities, personal care establishments and some city buildings will technically need to show proof of full vaccination against COVID-19 starting Monday — though enforcement of the new law won’t begin until Nov. 29.
The city’s SafePassLA ordinance is one of the strictest mandates of its kind in the nation, and includes all individuals eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine. Accepted forms of proof of vaccination include:
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