As concerns continued to grow over the global coronavirus pandemic, Pasadena city officials took a number of steps Tuesday to further ensure the safety and well being of its residents.
As of Wednesday, the novel coronavirus, or COVID-19, had infected 208,185 people and killed 8,272 around the world. It has infected 6,524 people in the United States and killed 116. In Los Angeles County, 144 people are infected, with one death reported. There are two cases in Pasadena, with the second case made public on Monday.
The news and entertainment website Pasadena Now reported that Huntington Hospital is treating additional patients infected with COVID-19. The patients are not residents of Pasadena, according to the site.
While Pasadena Mayor Terry Tornek has been abroad as part of a delegation visiting Pasadena’s sister city Dakar Plateau, Senegal, he said he will return to Pasadena sometime this week in light of the situation.
“I have been closely monitoring the spread of COVID-19 and in frequent communication with our city manager,” Tornek wrote in a press release issued Saturday. “In light of the situation, I am returning to Pasadena next week.” The original return date was Thursday, March 19.
With the regularly scheduled City Council meeting on Monday canceled, along with Tornek and Council member John Kennedy abroad in Senegal, the council called a special meeting after being requested by Council member Victor Gordo.
Council member Tyron Hampton, who is also vice mayor, originally requested a special meeting last week, but said he was told by staff that the pandemic did not “warrant staff time.” There were six council members left in the country at the time of the request. The eight-member council needs a quorum of five members to meet.
The City Council held a special meeting beginning late Tuesday morning to discuss the measures Pasadena is taking in order to mitigate the effect of COVID-19. Hampton, who presided over the meeting, and Gordo were present at the dais while the rest of the council members were tuned in via telephone. Tornek did not participate in the meeting.
The meeting lasted for nearly six hours, with the council passing an eviction moratorium along with waiving all late fees and penalties on utilities.
The council also loosened parking restrictions and allocated $150,000 for Pasadena City Manager Steve Mermell to create a plan to provide meals to residents in need.
During the meeting, Council member Margaret McAustin suggested that the city should take more serious measures, such as issuing a shelter in place order similar to what communities in the Bay Area have implemented. Council member Gene Masuda also backed this suggestion, wanting to be over-prepared rather than under-prepared.
“I’m not one for a lot of government, but I think in this instance we need to be more proactive in protecting the lives and public safety of our residents,” said McAustin. “The risks are so great that if we are more timid, we’re going to have a worse outcome for the city and the region. … I’m very fearful that our failure will be we will not be aggressive enough.”
During the meeting each council member expressed their concerns and recommendations to City Health Officer Dr. Ying Ying Goh and Mermell, who had proclaimed a Local State of Emergency in order “to empower the city to more effectively respond to the novel coronavirus disease.”
Mermell announced that, in accordance with the health and safety measures implemented by the city, all bars, gyms and fitness centers, private social clubs and sit-down-restaurant service in the city will be closed to the public. The restaurants can still serve food as long as it is take-out or through delivery services.
“These new restrictions are necessary to stop large numbers of people from gathering and staying in close proximity. The restrictions will be in effect until further notice,” Mermell wrote. “Those businesses and employers not covered by the closure order are encouraged to find ways to maximize social distancing including reducing hours and voluntary closure.”
Pasadena, Los Angeles and LA County followed the suggestions of Gov. Gavin Newsom to close these venues to the public.
“We know how difficult these restrictions will be on small businesses in Pasadena, but public safety is our top priority,” Mermell wrote in the press release. “This is a serious situation, and the time for bold action is now. We have an obligation to act in the best interests of our community.”
Last week, Pasadena Unified Superintendent Brian McDonald announced that all district schools will be closed for three weeks beginning March 16. Schools plan to reopen on Monday, April 6.
“In an abundance of caution, I am authorizing the dismissal of students from attending school March 16, 2020,” McDonald wrote in an email. “Dismissal involves teachers, staff, and other personnel who will be expected to report to work as we plan for the continuity of instruction.”
PUSD announced that they will provide “remote learning” to students through online classrooms in the software, PowerSchool. The school district is also offering resources for students receiving special education services through their website. In a letter to families affected by the dismissal, PUSD provided an example of two schedules for parents to follow; one for elementary students and the other for secondary students.
The district will also offer free prepacked breakfast and lunch for students 18 and younger. The drive-through and pick-up service will be offered from 9 to 11 a.m. through March 27 in the parking lots or student drop-off lanes of seven campuses: Field Elementary, Madison Elementary, Norma Coombs Elementary, Eliot Middle School, Wilson Middle School, McKinley K-8 School and John Muir High School. PUSD is still exploring options with other agencies to provide childcare and supervision for families affected by the closure.
“I am very proud of the staff for the preparation,” said Pasadena School Board Vice President Scott Phelps. “I’m proud of the superintendent and his team… and having a plan already to roll out.”
During this time, all PUSD salaried and monthly employees will continue to be paid their regular monthly salary. Substitute teachers will be paid for the hours they have worked and will be paid for any hours they may work during the dismissal. Long-term substitutes will also still be paid.
The Pasadena Police and Fire departments will continue to operate throughout this crisis.
In a statement, PPD wrote: “We have outfitted all police officers with needed equipment and have provided response protocols to assist officers in handling calls for service or encountering individuals who may be infected with COVID-19. We are regularly monitoring grocery stores and other vital points where resources are obtained. Officers will investigate and enforce any violation of the law in regards to price-gouging.”
Also in the statement, the PPD and PFD are working with public health professionals to “ensure the highest level of service during this critical time.”