While Pasadena Health Department officials have explained that everything that can be done to stem the spread of COVID-19 also known as the novel coronavirus, is already being done, a former Pasadena mayor said that is not enough. 

“Let’s not wait for the first coronavirus case to be reported in Pasadena,” attorney and former Mayor  Bill Paparian wrote in a Feb. 26 email to Pasadena City Manager Steve Mermell and Mayor Terry Tornek. Paparian served on the City Council from 1987 to 1999, and as mayor from 1995 to 1997.

Paparian pointed out that the mayor of San Francisco had declared a state of emergency, President Trump submitted a $2.5 billion funding request to Congress and that Democratic leadership was requesting $8.5 billion to help fight the spread of the virus. Paparian offered eight actions ranging from expanding the city infrastructure to combat the disease and educating the public.

“Yes, I know that this is an ambitious plan, but it must be implemented immediately,” Paparian stated. “The time to take action is now!”

In response to Paparian’s email, Mermell echoed the message of many officials that caution and preparedness are appropriate but panic is not.

“Given the spread of the disease, there is certainly cause for concern,” wrote Mermell. “However, we need to be mindful of not prompting panic or undue fear on the part of residents. Our response needs to be based on facts and information.”

The virus has infected about 90,000 people, with cases in every continent spanning over 60 countries. There have been more than 3,000 deaths, a majority of which have been in China. However, some experts believe the slow response by the Chinese government may have skewed the numbers. The deaths may also be skewed since 52 percent of men in China smoke, which could complicate one’s health since COVID-19 affects the lungs.

As of Monday, in the United States there have been 88 cases reported across the nation and six deaths, all of which were in Washington state.

Pasadena officials have made preparations for a possible outbreak in the city, addressing many of the actions listed in Paparian’s email.

“We are really emphasizing the need to practice personal hygiene, wash hands, frequently [and] install more hand sanitizers,” said Pasadena Public Information Officer Lisa Derderian. “If you’re sick, stay home. But also think about long term. We don’t want to instill fear. But we also want to reiterate that a plan should be in place, whether it be for any other type of disaster.”

COVID-19 can be contracted through person to person contact, through coughs or sneezes and contact with infected surfaces. The city echoes the message from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Los Angeles County as they advise the public to wash their hands frequently for about 20 seconds, cover your mouth with a tissue or elbow when you sneeze and avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth.

US Surgeon General Jerome Adams and others advise the nation to stop buying masks because it shortens the supply for medical professionals, which raises the risks for contraction for them and the local communities. Masks are also not effective at preventing the general public from contracting the disease.

City officials have been working with the Pasadena Unified School District and private institutions, such as Caltech, and Pasadena City College, along with producing a social media campaign to educate the public.

“It’s more of an educational campaign and getting the facts out there because there’s a lot of speculation and we don’t want to instill fear,” Derderian said. “We want to make sure people are just prepared and taking every precautionary measure that they can.”

Part of the education campaign includes a public presentation during the March 9 City Council meeting. At that time, city Health Officer Dr. Ying-Ying Goh is expected to give a presentation on the virus. Goh could not be reached by press time for comment on this story.

She was also part of the LA County Department of Public Health presentation given on Wednesday where she declared a public health emergency in Pasadena. The declaration will help the city prepare for an adequate response to a community spread and to receive federal reimbursement for any incurred costs. Goh stated she has confidence that the local health care facilities are prepared for a potential outbreak.

LA County has also received test kits and protocols for the novel coronavirus from the CDC. They have been testing and using them since last Wednesday.

There are seven types of coronavirus, including COVID-19, which stands for Coronavirus Disease 2019. There are four types that are commonly contracted by humans and are precursors to the common cold. However, there are three more serious types, Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and the novel coronavirus COVID-19.

Officials are concerned with how easily the virus has been transmitted. Since December 2019, more than 90,000 cases have been reported. In comparison, MERS has 2,494 cases since September 2012. Of the current COVID-19 cases, 80 percent of people experience mild symptoms.

According to a study by China’s Center for Disease Control and Prevention published earlier this month, the mortality rate of COVID-19 the mortality rate is 2.3 percent, based on the 72,000 cases studied. In comparison, MERS and SARS have a mortality rate of about 34 percent and 10 percent respectively. The annual mortality rate of the seasonal flu is .1 percent.

Even though the mortality rate is much lower than MERS and SARS, COVID-19 has killed about 3,000 people compared to 866 from MERS and 774 from SARS. A majority of deaths from COVID-19 have been among those older than 50. 

Officials are hopeful that the disease will dissipate around April and the summertime, per the trend of many viral diseases. Many of the diseases struggle to spread in the summer due to the rise in temperature. There is a chance of COVID-19 returning in the fall, which is what happened with the worst flu pandemic in human history, the 1918 Spanish Influenza.

In October 1918, the influenza returned and killed 195,000 people in the United States that month alone. The worldwide death total of the disease is estimated at about 50 million to 100 million people. However, many experts believe that if the 1918 influenza were to happen today, modern medicine and technology would be able to mitigate the number of deaths.

“A lot of it is day to day,” said Derderian about the preparations Pasadena is making. “We don’t know what’s going to happen several months down the road, but we do feel confident right now that we are putting out the right messaging and that we do have control, at least in our area of how we’re handling it.”