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'The kids are going stir-crazy': L.A. battles house parties that could spread COVID-19

Television news started showing the images Monday night in prime time: hundreds of people at a mansion on Mullholland Drive, mingling, dancing and showing very little social distancing despite pleas from health officials to avoid social gatherings as COVID-19 continues to spread.

Police responded, but the party kept going. Then, after midnight, shots rang out. One woman died, and four other people were injured.

The Los Angeles Police Department is now investigating what prompted the shooting and is searching for suspects. The incident is the latest in a string of big house parties, many in the Hollywood Hills. Some have turned violent and involved gunfire.

At a time when bars and nightclubs are closed, concern is growing that people are turning to private gatherings, which can heighten the risk of spreading the coronavirus.

In the wake of Tuesday’s shooting, many at City Hall expect new proposals to crack down on such events.

“Since COVID, they’ve moved all the parties to the hills,” said Sheila Irani, a member of the Hollywood United Neighborhood Council. “The kids are going stir-crazy.”

Here’s what we know:

What happened with this latest party?

The shooting was reported about 12:45 a.m., hours after Los Angeles police were first called to the home in the 13200 block of Mulholland Drive following numerous complaints from neighbors about the size of the gathering after buses were seen dropping off partygoers.

LAPD Lt. Chris Ramirez said officers found two women and a man suffering from gunshot wounds.

Ramirez said the shooting is considered a gang-related homicide. Social media activity, in part, led detectives to link the shooting to gang activity, he added.

No arrests have been made.

Videos from the mansion posted on social media appear to capture bursts of gunfire.

Aren’t these types of events dangerous?

Yes. The surge in coronavirus cases that occurred when the state began reopening the economy in May has several causes. But one, officials have said, was people getting back to old routines, such as parties and other social gatherings.

With the spike in cases, the state closed down bars and indoor dining in many areas.

Gov. Gavin Newsom and others have noted that the age among new infections in California has dropped, and that young people are taking part in risky behavior because they don’t think they can get sick.

On Tuesday, California Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly said the party sounded “like a high-risk experience for those who were there and, frankly, for the loved ones that they go home to.”

He added that the state depends on its local partners to help ensure compliance with coronavirus-related health orders and that any issues need to be addressed head-on.

“I hope that we continue to have our local partners not just saying and reminding people of the message, but enforcing public health orders — not just the state public health orders, but the orders at the local level that I know, in L.A. County, are strong as well,” Ghaly said.

About 200 people were at the party in the Beverly Crest mansion when police first entered about 7 p.m. Although officers cited and impounded some vehicles that were illegally parked, they did not break up the party — even though gatherings of any size are prohibited under Los Angeles County’s coronavirus health order.

“When the officers arrived, they did notice large amounts of people on the roadway and vehicles kind of blocking, double-parked and stuff, stacked on the roadway,” Ramirez said during a morning media briefing.

“At that point, the officers met with the responsible party and security officers at that location. They were able to get their compliance, to help get the people back into the private party, and at the same time, did some enforcement.”

What can the city do?

Hollywood Hills parties have been an issue in L.A. for years. Neighbors complain that organizers rent houses for the events and bring in hundreds of paying guests.

In 2018, Los Angeles City Councilman David Ryu, who represents Hollywood Hills, proposed that fines be imposed on both party hosts and homeowners.

But the concerns have heightened since the pandemic began.

In May, officers went to a raging house party with more than 100 people that ended when a partygoer accidentally shot himself in the groin.

Rapper Megan Thee Stallion said she suffered gunshot wounds outside a Hollywood Hills mansion in July — though an LAPD account of the incident made no mention of her being struck by gunfire and referred only to her suffering a foot injury. The department is continuing to investigate that incident.

And the parties aren’t confined to the Hollywood Hills.

YouTuber Jake Paul threw a large house party in Calabasas last month. Videos captured from the 23-year-old’s July 11 gathering show dozens of young people mixing without masks or social distancing. In the clips, carefree partygoers roll dice and drink, swing from a raised excavator crane and pull a car into the packed lobby of the house.

Mayor Alicia Weintraub criticized the events and said authorities will begin to shut down large gatherings and fine people $100 for not wearing masks.

“It’s completely unacceptable to be interacting with people like that during this time. People need to be wearing masks, and people need to be keeping their distance. You can’t be having parties with over 100 people,” she said.

“Our numbers are rising,” Weintraub added. “Younger and younger people in our community are testing positive. Even though a young person might not get really sick, they have the potential to spread it to someone else who could get really sick.”

Irani, the Hollywood neighborhood council member, said fines, threats by the city and other sanctions don’t seem to deter some property owners.

Sources say officials at City Hall are drawing up even more restrictions that could be proposed as early as this week.

In the meantime, the Los Angeles city attorney’s office has said homeowners with a history of renting to partygoers could face criminal prosecution and six months in jail.

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