City health officials spent much of a recent weekend doing virtual inspections of local nursing care facilities, which have become hotbeds for coronavirus infections. 
“Although a number of our inspections have been done virtually with a team of people and someone inside the facility with a tablet, this is a practice to keep the inspectors safe, and it allows them to inspect,” City Manager Steve Mermell told the online news magazine Pasadena Now.

But on Monday, it became clear that more needs to be done, with city Health Officer Dr. Ying-Ying Goh telling the Pasadena City Council that residents and patients of those facilities account for 62 of the 69 deaths attributed to COVID-19. Those numbers rose to 64 and 71 by Tuesday morning, with both of those unidentified people dying at undisclosed Pasadena long-term care facilities.

”If the virus is essentially confined to nursing homes, then not only are the closures of all ‘non-essential’ businesses and stay-at-home orders inappropriate, but the spread of the novel coronavirus outside of these facilities is minuscule.” Erika Foy, a vice president with the Madison Heights Neighborhood Association, wrote in a letter to the council.

“Knowing these statistics raises two very important questions: What are we doing to protect the population most vulnerable to infection, and why are we subjecting the rest of the city to economic disaster if it’s not completely necessary? What would Pasadena’s COVID-19 infection rate look like if long-term-care facilities were measured independently and not averaged in with the general population?” Foy wrote.

At its weekly virtual meeting Monday, the council discussed the results of the city’s second week of soft openings for so-called non-essential businesses, with retailers allowed to conduct highly restrictive curbside sales a second week for the first time since closing on March 16, and recreational facilities, such as the Rose Bowl running, jogging and walking  loop, along with tennis and pickle ball courts, golf courses, and the city’s archery range and casting pond, opening to people wearing masks and keeping six feet apart, per the city’s social distancing protocols.

During the meeting, city Planning Director David Reyes said the city identified 1,069 business eligible to open for limited sales, with Reyes and other officials actually visiting 510 of those locations. At 103 businesses — 63 considered “essential” and 40 “non-essential,” Reyes said that 10 of the 40 allowed people inside their shops, which is forbidden. Two others did not enforce face covering regulations. No one was cited, but the owners were told to enforce the rules, Reyes said.

“We find that curbside retail is still very difficult in providing a real motivation for for a business to operate,” Reyes told the council. “It’s been a  challenge because, while it does help, it’s still extremely limited.”

Reyes said he held a webinar last week at which 120 business people participated. “It’s important that we start thinking about the next steps,” Reyes said.

The council’s ED Tech Committee was set to meet today, May 21, and discuss such ideas as closing off streets, alleys and parking lots to allow outdoor dining once Gov. Gavin Newsom declares the start of Stage  2 of easing restrictions.

“I think rather than rest on our laurels, we really need to redouble our efforts to come up with concrete plans that demonstrate our support for the community, especially the business community,” said Councilman Steve Madison.

Goh said she has ordered  “aggressive testing” be undertaken at local nursing facilities. As a result, the city is seeing more cases, but the curve is flattening, “so you’ll see some jumps sometimes and they represent individuals who are asymptomatic who were previously infected and just weren’t found.” But, Goh said, “Even with those increases and bumps we are seeing pretty flat (numbers of) cases, and from those indicators we are in a pretty good position. …  I really worry about the drawing in of people from outside Pasadena” with relaxation of the city’s Safer at Home protocols.

On April 12 Goh issued rules designed to stem coronavirus outbreaks in long-term care facilities. Her orders directed those operations to follow US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), state public health and Centers for Medicare and Medicaid guidelines, Pasadena Now reported. The guidelines include limiting entry of individuals into facilities, requiring symptom screening for all employees prior to work, suspending communal dining and activities, separating patients with COVID-19 from those who do not have the virus, and proper use of personal protective equipment.

Goh has written a report for the council on the nursing home situation which was supposed to be discussed by the council Monday. The report will be submitted sometime this week.