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Council Ratifies COVID-19 Emergency As City’s Top Doctor Urges Calm

Published on Tuesday, March 10, 2020 | 4:50 am
Dr. Ying-Ying Goh (center), the city’s director of public health, making a presentation at the City Council meeting on Monday night at which she outlined the city’s preparedness for the worldwide novel coronavirus outbreak. The council ratified Goh’s declaration last week of a local health emergency. Photo by Kevin Kenney

After hearing almost two hours of a detailed presentation by Dr. Ying-Ying Goh, Pasadena’s director of public health, as well as by several doctors from Huntington Hospital, the City Council on Monday night unanimously ratified the local health emergency that Goh declared in the city last week in response to the worldwide novel coronavirus outbreak.

During the meeting at City Hall, Goh again stressed that there are “no cases right now in the city of Pasadena,” and that her declaration is not a statement the city is facing any immediately heightened risk of the virus, which is also known as COVID-19.

Rather, Goh said, her declaration is a proactive, largely precautionary move designed to make certain resources and money more readily available to the city should the need arise; to facilitate coordination among agencies; and to bring the city into line with LA County, which also has declared a state of emergency over the outbreak.

Goh’s goals on Monday night, she said, were to dispense doses of assurance that the city and county are prepared for the emergency (while still “ramping up” their responses); to provide tips to the public as the battle against the virus moves from “containment to community mitigation” – and, most significantly, to urge calm.

“I’d like in our time together tonight to empower all of you, whether you are an elected official [or] a community leader, with accurate information and tools to mitigate the effect of COVID-19 in our community,’’ Goh said.

“I’m asking all of us to maintain calm, to stay informed with facts, and in this way, we will be able to strengthen our community and our response.’’

Goh urged the public to “be a skeptical consumer of social media” in regard information regarding the spread of the virus – and to rely on accurate, “scientifically reliable” information from such sources as the websites of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, the World Health Organization, the L.A. County Health Department and the Pasadena Public Health Department.

She provided a “situation summary” of the virus and its spread; outlined actions that federal, state and local authorities are taking; and then detailed various elements of “community preparedness and response.”

For her “situation summary,” Goh provided numbers from various sources from earlier in the day, but stressed that, in this fast-moving health situation, those numbers were “already out of date” by Monday night.

Among those numbers: 423 COVID-19 cases nationwide, with 19 deaths; 90 cases in California, with one death; and 16 cases in L.A. County, with no reported deaths.

Goh pointed to the federal government’s travel restrictions and airport screenings of people returning from hard-hit countries, particularly China, as key safeguards against the spread of the virus.

She also pointed out that, since Feb. 3, the CDC has been providing local health agencies, including Pasadena’s, with information on travelers returning from countries hard-hit by the coronavirus, based on information gleaned by customs and border-protection agencies.

Earlier, Goh had said the names of more than 50 Pasadena residents had been provided to the city’s health agency, and that those people had been asked to self-quarantine and self-monitor for 14 days, with the city checking in with them regularly to ensure they receive proper medical attention should they show symptoms.

So far, Goh said, none of the local residents has reported symptoms, although she acknowledged that city health officials have not been able to contact about 10 percent of those people.

“We contact them, make sure they have a thermometer, that they know how to use those thermometers, that they would check them daily, that they would check for other symptoms as well, and know how to report to us right away,’’ Goh said.

“We check in with them periodically to remind them,” she added.

If any resident does develop symptoms, she said, they would be directed to a doctor for testing and, if needed, further quarantine.

Another element of the local response, Goh said, is that the city Health Department is “prioritizing our most vulnerable populations,” including residents of skilled-nursing facilities.

She said city health workers are going “door to door” at those facilities, as well as the senior center, and that “we are in close communication with them” in regard to safety protocols to prevent exposure to, or spread of, the virus.

Goh said other local actions include providing guidance to schools, homeless shelters, ticketed venues and restaurants, among other locales.

Among the tips being disseminated are: washing hands; cleaning and disinfecting frequently touched objects and surfaces; covering your nose and mouth when sneezing or coughing; and practicing “social distancing” such as avoiding crowds and limiting courtesies such as shaking hands.

“What we’re hoping is that people who have symptoms of coronavirus will call their doctors and talk to their doctors about any risk factors that they might have that might have caused them to be exposed to coronavirus, and their doctors will evaluate them and get them the right health care that they need,” she had said last week.

“If somebody had some risk factors, was having respiratory symptoms and needed emergency or hospital care, they would get directed in a safe fashion to the emergency room.’’

Monday, Goh also urged businesses to limit work-related and personal travel, relax requirements for a doctor’s note for employee absences, and allow employees to work remotely where possible.

She also said there might be the need for the cancellation of mass gatherings – one of which, Pasadena’s annual Art Night, is still on for this Friday.

“(But) tomorrow might be different,” she said. “I might ask for a cancellation.”

City Manager Steve Mermell said, “We’re trying to let the facts guide our decisions.”

City first-responders are part of the plan, too.

Earlier, city spokesperson Lisa Derderian had said those workers have been getting daily updates on taking more personal precautions and using protective equipment when needed.

Derderian also said the city has also been in contact with fitness centers, which have been reminded to wipe down common areas, including weights and treadmills.

Last week, Dr. Barbara Ferrer, head of the county health department, stressed that all of the county’s cases have been traced to an exposure source, and not been linked to “community spread.”

“We are going to reiterate our main messages, which is for the general public, your risk still remains low, although this is the time to start making sure you’re practicing what we call good public health hygiene,” Ferrer said.

Goh, meanwhile, said Pasadena is “fortunate to have resources that other cities don’t have” – a reference to Huntington Hospital, which has numerous resources, including space for isolation rooms, should there be a “surge.”

Further, she stressed, the city is coordinating with the county, state and federal governments on coordination.

“We’re communicating constantly with all our partners,” she said.

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