Pasadena officials Monday indicated they had no immediate plans for the city to enforce an L.A. County Public Health Department order that bans outdoor dining at restaurants as a means of combating a surge in COVID-19 cases – though that could change down the road as data is continually analyzed.
“We’re assessing the data currently,’’ City Manager Steve Mermell said during Monday’s City Council meeting – one day after a county Public Health Department decree ordered that restaurants, as well as bars, breweries and wineries, be limited to takeout and delivery orders only starting on Wednesday at 10 p.m.
The county order is scheduled to last three weeks, though it could be extended if COVID-19 cases continue to rise.
But Pasadena, one of three cities in L.A. County with its own health department, can decide on its own to allow city restaurants to continue serving outdoors despite the county ban.
The city Health Department, headed by Dr. Ying-Ying Goh, will have ultimate say over what direction Pasadena will take on the matter – and Monday, Goh also indicated that no additional restrictions on restaurants or other retail businesses in the city are planned, at least in the short term.
However, she said, that could change as more data becomes available.
“Right now, we don’t expect any new orders, but we are concerned about this trend, that the trend is going up and it’s going up really fast,’’ Goh said.
“We are going to keep following the data very closely, we’re going to be coordinating with the state and with the other jurisdictions in L.A. County, and we’re going to do what we have to do to protect our whole community.
“(But) at this time, there are no additional orders, including no order for the closure of on-site restaurant dining.’’
Goh added: “We certainly hope that we don’t have to close or restrict any further sector or any activity, especially as we recognize the enormous sacrifices made by so many, including restaurant owners and their employees.’’
For his part, Mermell said, “We’re extremely concerned about increases in cases. But we want to be cognizant of not coming down hard on one segment of our local economy unless the data bears that out to the extent that we can determine.’’
Restaurants have already been operating under restrictions that prohibit indoor dining, cutting deeply into business volume and profits. This latest order by the county is widely seen as a potential death blow to many establishments that are already just barely hanging on.
Indeed, the council heard nearly an hour’s worth of public comments during Monday’s meeting, from dozens of correspondents, all imploring the city to allow outdoor dining to continue as a way of helping restaurants survive.
“The restaurants have made such a strong effort to operate safely,’’ said Mayor Terry Tornek – adding that “this is an evolving circumstance’’ and that “we will continue to follow the science.’’
“There’s a misconception about the City Council voting on this today and controlling the decision,’’ Tornek added. “That authority is vested in the public-health officer.’’
But Goh, the mayor said, “has heard all the public comments and is mindful of everything that has been suggested.’’
“One of the writers commented on the difficulties of balancing the financial issues with the public welfare (and) public-health issues,’’ Tornek said. “It is a real challenge, and it is a moving target. All of this is happening in real time and in a pretty terrifying way.’’
Among the public comments Monday was a letter to council members from Paul Little, president and CEO of the Pasadena Chamber of Commerce, saying, “The current surge in COVID-19 cases is attributed to Halloween events, the Dodgers and Biden victory — NOT outdoor dining at restaurants, shopping at retail stores or exercising.’’
“It makes no sense to penalize restaurants when they are not causing the surge in infection rates. Socially distanced and safe outdoor dining is exactly that, safe.”
Separately, County Supervisor Kathryn Barger also registered her disagreement with the county Health Department’s order.
“These proposed measures by the Department of Public Health will further devastate local businesses and employees who have been asked to shoulder an unfair burden this year,” Barger said in a news release.
“Businesses throughout the county have invested thousands of dollars to ensure safety for their employees and customers only to be punished for the recent surge they have done everything in their power to prevent.”
The county supervisors are scheduled to meet on Tuesday – and Barger, the board’s chairperson, said she will oppose the county Public Health Department’s order.
All this news comes as dire COVID numbers continue to pour in from all sectors, including locally.
Nationally, Goh told the City Council, “The alarming rate of growth (shows) … a seven-day average of over 168,000 new cases a day and 1,400 people dying from COVID-19 per day.’’
What’s more, she said, “COVID-19 is spreading across California at a pace we haven’t seen since the start of this pandemic, and the coming weeks will be critical to stop the surge.
“In the first week of November alone, California cases doubled. COVID-19 hospitalizations increased 63.6 percent over 14 days, and ICU hospitalizations increased 40.5 percent over 14 days. The state could reach hospital capacity … if this trend continues.’’
Meanwhile, the L.A. County Department of Health Services — the agency that oversees health-care resources in the county, including in Pasadena – also reported the number of new patients with COVID-19 who require hospitalization is increasing, Goh said.
“Assuming no change of behavior of residents, it is likely the number of cases will go up rapidly, with likely shortages in the number of hospital beds and ICU beds over the next two to four weeks,’’ said Goh.
Dr. Barbara Ferrer, the county Public Health director, Monday announced 6,124 new confirmed COVID-19 cases in the county, the highest single-day number during the pandemic, bringing the county’s cumulative total to 370,636 cases.
Ferrer also reported 1,473 people are currently hospitalized with COVID in the county, up from 1,401 on Sunday. In addition, eight new COVID deaths were reported Monday, raising the total county number to 7,446, Ferrer reported.
Dr. Matt Feaster, lead epidemiologist with the Pasadena Health Department, reported similarly troubling numbers in the city, though no new deaths as of Monday.
“Unfortunately, since last week we have seen an increase in cases of about 200 percent,’’ Feaster told the council. “Three weeks ago, we were at an average weekly low of about three cases per day on average per week, and now we are seeing almost a daily average of about 22 cases.’’
Cumulatively, Pasadena has seen 3,405 cases and 132 deaths from COVID-19.
Meanwhile, Dr. Lori J. Morgan, president and CEO of Huntington Hospital, told council members, “We are seeing rapid increases in in-patient admissions and in the number of COVID tests that we are doing.’’
“Our seven-day average for COVID tests three weeks ago was 51 (while) in the last seven days it’s been 106,’’ Morgan said. “Three weeks ago, our average (number of) in-patients was 21, and last week, in the last seven days, it has been up to 38.’’
Morgan said that Huntington – with a total of 47 ICU beds “that we could staff currently’’ – had three COVID patients and 23 non-COVID patients in the ICU as of Monday, leaving 21 spaces that could be staffed under current nurse-patient ratios.
She said the hospital could “potentially” flex up to 89 ICU beds, but that staffing those beds might pose a problem “unless we were able to relax some of our nurse-patient ratios.’’
Additional nurses who worked temporarily at Huntington during California’s initial surge of COVID cases have since moved on, making staffing for any potential ICU flex-up a worry, Morgan said.
In a worst-case scenario, Mermell said, the Pasadena Convention Center – outfitted as a kind of MASH unit over the summer in case COVID cases overwhelmed Huntington – could potentially be recommissioned with about a week of lead time. The Convention Center beds were not needed during the summer, and the beds placed there were removed a few months ago.
Meanwhile, aside from the outdoor-dining situation, the county could also impose a wider stay-at-home order as early as Tuesday. Specifics of any new order would still need to be finalized from talks between county health officials and supervisors. Last week, health officials said that any such order would likely allow only essential and emergency workers, and those securing essential services, to leave their homes.
(André Coleman and City News Service contributed to this report.)