A Community Copes | South Pasadena Adjusts to Coronavirus as New Reality Sets In

The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health is cooperating with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to respond to new cases of novel coronavirus. South Pasadena residents were asked to weigh in with their thoughts regarding the disease.

PHOTO: Eric Fabbro | SouthPasadenan.com News | Mission St. in South Pasadena during lunch rush in the wake of the state and county's new coronavirus safety measures

As a nation copes with coronavirus COVID-19 and questions about its impact remain, health officials are working around the clock to fight its devastating effects throughout the world.

Many, including those in South Pasadena, are facing new anxieties related to the current situation.

“A lot has changed for all of us this past week in response to the coronavirus pandemic,” explained South Pasadena City Council member Dr. Marina Khubesrian, noting some are close to home. “So far some of these changes include canceling a planned conference in Portland for this week, school closures for my son Max and change to online college classes for my daughter Sofie.”

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Adjusting to having children home and a new reality of cancelled meetings, outings, social gatherings is just sinking in for Khubesrian and millions of others as life has been turned upside down and every which way in short order.

As a physician, the council member said she’s “doing patient visits by telephone for the time being, and spending most of my time analyzing new information, synthesizing the science, clinical and public health ramifications of this virus while communicating with experts, stakeholders and helping coordinate our city’s response in a rapidly changing social, economic and public health landscape.”

Planning ahead, Khubesrian and her husband, Mark, “can preorder and stagger instacart deliveries of groceries and supplies to every few days and not worry about overstocking,” she said when asked for her recommendations as Americans are feeling their way through a new lifestyle. “We did stock the pantry with a month supply of non-perishables like beans and rice. We have started a group text with siblings and family members to make sure that the needs of our elderly parents are being met and that we are all staying connected.”

Getting a little exercise and remaining at ease are other tips she’d like to pass along to others.

“We find taking walks very calming,” she said. “We are spending more time with our pets and walking our highly energetic young dog Casie to the dog park. Of course, we keep a safe distance from others and wash our hands often with soap.”

Changing the way Americans live, some South Pasadena residents weighed in on the tension, anxiety, fear and concern felt by so many as the world confronts coronavirus. As of Tuesday at noon, there were 144 reported cases of the disease, including one in South Pasadena, and one death. Thirty-seven states have closed public schools, many grocery store shelves are empty, and government lockdowns are in place in some major cities.

Some say a nationwide lockdown is imminent as the health and wellbeing of millions is increasingly at risk.

As local seniors are requested to shelter in place, Sheila Pautsch, the city’s community services director, asks residents to “reach out to our elderly neighbors or disabled to see how we can assist them,” she said. “They may need a few items from the store and are too afraid to encounter the chaos of the grocery store. Also just spend some time with them, use social distancing, but give a few minutes of your time to them. It can help keep the depression of isolation to a minimum. Ask them to take a short walk within their home or around the block. They need to get out for a bit and keep themselves moving.”

She’s like everyone to be “a good neighbor and assist where you can,” continued Pautsch. “We are all in the same predicament and need each other to make it through. This is the easiest way to show kindness.”

Alberto Ocon, the president of South Pasadena Little League, has stopped heading to the gym for workouts, resorting to staying home performing “old school pushups,” he said.

It’s sounds simple, but words couldn’t be truer. “We need to wash our hands and speak up if you are feeling sick,” said the good-natured Ocon. “But besides safety, live your life as normal as possible.”

In face of the virus, South Pasadena Athletic Director Anthony Chan says, “One of the hardest things for a lot of people is planning for the future.  The uncertainty of the future has really taken a toll on many.  For athletics, I’m paying attention to the decisions that may be made by CIF and for teaching. We’re thinking about how we can continue to teach our students.”

Daily, Chan stays busy around the house since local schools closed their doors for three weeks last Friday.  “I have done a lot of cleaning and caught up on a lot of different shows I haven’t had time for,” he said. “I’d suggest having a task list for yourself every day while we spend more time at home.  Having the feeling of accomplishment that you’ve done what you wanted to do for the day can keep your mind busy.”

Staying calm at the market, not hoarding products, showing respect to others is also on his mind. “We want to make sure we leave some for others,” he insisted.  “Check up on your neighbors, particularly if they’re elderly.  Be kind to one another.”

John Vandercook, a local business owner who in active in a variety of city organizations, added: “We are living our life without much change but with the addition more frequent hand washing, social distancing and staying clear of large gatherings,” he said. “I believe that living our life without fear and not feeding hysteria is key. We also want to be sensitive to our family, friends and community needs.”

One of the staunchest freeway fighters when fighting the 710 Freeway extension was in vogue before it finally died is Joanne Nuckols, who noted: “”As a homebody, the thought of sheltering in place was not concerning and had some appeal. But after three or four days into the two weeks of the recommended initial confinement, one has to take stock of the situation given the rapid change in circumstances ‘out there.’”

Nuckols is grateful for family, friends and neighbors who are checking in on she and her husband, Tom, offering to help.  “The usually cursed social media is turning out to be a blessing,” she said.  “Information and updates from our doctor neighbors is very helpful to try and navigate what’s true and what’s not about the virus.  In the end, we are all in this together and we all have to get along.”

The biggest impact on Holly Lang, a second grade teacher at Marengo Elementary School, is that instruction has come to a screeching halt as local campuses will be closed until at least early April. “I’m in constant contact with my students’ parents, making sure all have work to do and keeping our students on an academic schedule as best we can,” she said. “They are resilient. I’m so proud of them.”

South Pasadena Police Chief Joe Ortiz said the coronavirus outbreak “has driven home once again the critical importance of emergency preparedness. In working with the fire department, city manager and other departments in the city, we are incorporating and coordinating all agencies and personnel of the city to be capable of responding to any emergency. Most of my time is spent on preparation and contingencies. The City of South Pasadena is prepared with a current Emergency Operations and Hazardous Mitigation Plans in place to provide sustainability during this crisis.”

Through it all, he’s “doing ok,” adding, “I am staying in contact with my friends and family, and staying active. On my off time, I am staying busy with exercise, outdoor activities, and spending some quality time watching a movie series on TV.”

To make life easier for others, Ortiz insisted, “ We are going to get through this. I understand that fear and anxiety about a disease can be overwhelming and cause strong emotions in adults and children. If you, or someone you care about, are feeling overwhelmed with emotions like sadness, depression, or anxiety, or feel like you want to harm yourself or others…please, please, please call 911. We will get you the help you need. Coping with stress will make you, the people you care about, and our community much stronger in the end.”

Longtime community member Gary Goodrich says not traveling to work means he has “officially come into the 21st century. I’m learning to use video conferencing and various other software programs to deal with clients.”

A quick morning jog and lifting weights to start the day “can do wonders for one’s stress and anxiety,” added Goodrich, as he connects with friends in difficult times. “Let them know you are there for them,” he said. “Remember, being challenged in life is inevitable. Being defeated is optional.”

Laura Farber, a South Pasadena resident who served as president for the Tournament of Roses Association last year, has stayed at home in recent days to do her part in slowing down the virus. “Both of my children are home, one is working from home and the other is doing online classes (she just flew home from the east coast),” she explained. “We are eating at home and generally doing most everything virtually.”

While there has been concern, “but we are staying calm and trying to keep up to date, but in a balanced matter.” Farber remarked.  “Too much constant monitoring is not helpful mentally. We’re trying to get our steps in around the neighborhood and by walking our dog as well!”

Following her own advice, Farber wants others to “stay calm, practice mindfulness, and remember things will improve, just be patient and careful,” she said. “By taking care of ourselves, we will be taking care of our community. What we need to do is not impossible, just a change that is necessary.”

Courtney Dunlap is the president of the South Pasadena Tournament of Roses Committee and works tirelessly on the city’s float each year, and professionally is part of the Trader Joe’s team. “Working at a grocery store has definitely put me at a higher risk of contracting the virus,” she said. “With school being closed it has affected mine and my fiancé’s work schedules so one of us can be home with our kids.”

Although she hasn’t changed her daily routine, the biggest impact of the crisis has been the thought maybe canceling her wedding. “April 4th has been a day I have been planning for the last year and a half,” said Dunlap. “I never thought that I might have to cancel my wedding until a few days ago.”

She encourages residents to go about their day not changing their shopping habits. “By buying in bulk it doesn’t allow our suppliers to keep up with the demand,” she stressed. “Only buy what you need.”

Dunlap’s father, Brant, is also employed at Trader Joe’s where 12-hour shifts are common these days for the store manager.

Among the challenges are trying to filter the ever-changing information he hears about the virus. His efforts have stepped up in practicing safer hygiene through hand washing since the outbreak.

“Stay up to date on the current happenings in your area,” he urged fellow South Pasadenans. “Reach out to elder neighbors and offer support. Don’t panic buy things like toilet paper and water. This type of buying has overwhelmed the supply chain and we are all affected by this.”

Dunlap said Trader Joe’s is doing everything it can to ensure the safety of its customers and work crew remain a top priority. “There are a lot a folks who are afraid, concerned and even misinformed,” he said. “Knowing that we are somewhat like a first responders, it’s very special to help people during this time of uneasiness.”

The biggest impact from the coronavirus outbreak for Monterey Hills Elementary School Librarian Amy Blum “has been created through not going to work and limited mobility because of social distancing,” she said. “I think it’s extremely important to practice this for our common well being. I’d also like to commend SPUSD for taking proper action to take care of its students, staff and community.”

She is trying to achieve a state of balance with the outbreak. “I think we should be careful, use best practices regarding health and safety, but not feed into the panic,” said Blum. “I was practicing self-isolation when I was feeling the symptoms of a cold and cough and continue to practice social distancing as recommended.”

Blum is spending part of her day in what she calls “productive activity,” but is also taking time to exercise, relax, and meditate/reflect.

“I think it’s essential to stay informed about the trajectory and new developments with the virus but also to take necessary breaks from the constant barrage of information,” she said. “I also have found that when I connect with friends via text or call, it’s a bright spot in my day, and so reach out and stay open.”

Jim Anderson, a dedicated volunteer in town and a past president of the Festival of Balloon 4th of July committee who has faced a crisis or two in his lifetime has simply turned off the radio with nonstop coronavirus news while encouraging others to “watch your favorite movie, cook some comfort food, hug your kids and play board games with them,” he said.  “Listen to relaxing music. If the weather is nice, go outside and take a walk.”

Like others, he urges, “Please relax. This too shall pass. Pray for those less fortunate, there is always someone less fortunate than you.  Stay out of the supermarkets.  You should have enough supplies to get by for a few days until the other ‘panicked people’ stop their hoarding.  Practice good personal hygiene which we should all be doing all the time.”

Maida Wong, the children’s librarian at the South Pasadena Library she’s not “making unessential treks and eating at home more often.” Wong is using the opportunity to stay at home “to eat up the stocked canned goods and unearth the freezer food that I’d stockpiled too long ago,” she said. “I’m relaxing with cups of tea and figuring out how to exercise.”

Her recommendation to others is to “attend to and think critically about your sources of information.”

Stephanie Payne Campbell, deep-rooted in South Pasadena Beautiful, which, yes, performs projects to beautify the city like the new landscaping in front of the post office in town and the library, says “the biggest impact on her family as a result of the virus “is shuttering in the house,” she said. “My son came home from college and will finish the semester online. My high schooler and elementary schooler are home indefinitely as well. I expanded my business by opening a brick and mortar shop last fall and last Sunday I closed it until who knows when and will open full-scale webshop online. However I don’t expect people will be gift shopping now. My husband, who works in TV, is still currently working at the office and will hopefully be able to work from home starting in a couple of days.”

How is she coping? “I think maybe I am still in a state of shock actually and are coping by preparing, organizing and rearranging the house to accommodate more space for the family so we can take advantage of the extra time off to explore activities like cooking, sewing, playing music, and exercising and playing games,” she continued.  “It still feels like we’re on winter break. I’ve relaxed by doing a little vegetable gardening too. My life before this event was so busy I always felt as though I didn’t have time to relax because there was always too much to do to be truly relaxed. Being able to stop and catch a breath and spend time with my family is the silver lining of all this.”

If there was ever a truly teachable moment for humankind, Payne Campbell says this is it. “It’s amazing to be living through what will surely go down in the history books as one of the most monumental world events ever,” she said. “How we respond to the challenges will dictate not just who we are as a society but who we will become. It’s a moment for patience, selflessness, grit, ingenuity, and for rising to the occasion with the best of ourselves individually which translates to collective whole. I have hope that we will make the most of this awful situation and be the better for it on the other side.”

Remain calm, be safe, and wash your hands frequently is the advice coming from so many, including Alan Ehrlich, a frequent visitor to South Pasadena City Council meetings and member of the city’s Public Safety Commission who will be seeking a seat on the council in November’s election.

“Most obviously, sheltering in place and limiting my family’s contact with friends and strangers alike,” are foremost on his mind. “Both my parents are in their 80s and I have a daughter away at college at the University of Kentucky, so keeping in touch and checking in with everyone everyday or two to see how they are coping is a must.”

He says his family is doing fine. As a CERT (Community, Emergency, Response Team) Level 3, Red Cross first aid and shelter volunteer and now a student at Cal State Long Beach working on a masters degree in emergency services administration, Ehrlich said members of his family are “one of about 10% of Californians who are prepared for ‘the big one.’  We have always kept a supply of water and non-perishable foods on hand to last up to 10 days should it ever become necessary.”

Ideas to make life easier for others? Ehrlich has plenty:

  • “Turn off your TV/ radio and stop web surfing 24/7 for the latest breaking news.  Being glued to the news 24/7 can cause more stress and anxiety, leading to depression.   Check in once a day for updates.  Visit the CDC, County Department of Public Health, or city website for reliable information.”
  • “Try not to react to every text message or e-mail you receive, even from friends.  There is a lot of unreliable and unverified information circulating on the internet meant to cause panic. Yes, we all need to be extremely concerned, keep 6′ of distance from others, wash our hands frequently & practice good hygiene, but at this time there is no need for panic.”
  • “In the coming 7 – 14 days, as COVID-19 test kits begin shipping to health care providers, there will be a sharp jump in the number of reported infections in the US. Today that number is about 4,000. In 14 days, it could be 40,000, maybe more, maybe less. That does not mean the virus is spreading wildly out of control, simply that we did not have testing kits available and will ‘discover’ many more citizens have been infected than health officials could confirm. In South Korea, with a population of about 51 million, Korean Health officials have been testing over 10,000 people per day for several weeks and the trend in new infections is now declining. The US population is 6.5x larger, 330 million, and we have only been testing 300 – 400 people per day. A sharp jump in reported cases is to be expected.”
  • “Grocery stores in the US use a ‘just in time’ inventory stocking method. In other words, Stores such as Trader Joes and Pavilions know how many boxes of cereal or pounds of fresh fruit they typically sell in a week and order inventory for that level of demand. What we saw over the weekend with panic buying simply means there was a spike in demand. Stores continue to receive more merchandise and restock shelves daily through the normal supply chain process. If you think about food shopping around Thanksgiving or Christmas, manufacturers and grocers know there will be higher than normal demand and begin stocking up weeks in advance. As long as people don’t panic, store inventory levels should normalize in a week or two.
  • “Unlike a major earthquake, tornado or hurricane, there is no damage to infrastructure and water supplies. Consumers may prefer their Arrowhead or Kirkland bottled water, but city tap water is perfectly safe for cooking and drinking. It will save you some money too.”
  • “I observed many people over-shopping on vegetables, fruit and other perishable foods.  Some of our neighbors on limited incomes may not have been able to stock up. If this describes you, before that produce or meat products spoil, offer it to your neighbors, or contact one of the many social clubs in the city, South Pasadena Women’s Club, The Oneonta Club, South Pasadena Chinese American Club or one of the many houses of worship in the city. They can notify their members.”
  • “Residents should consult with their doctors and contact their pharmacy to request prescription refills, especially medications for high blood pressure, diabetes, blood thinners, psycho therapeutics. Only your doctor and pharmacist can determine which medications are most necessary for you so better to refill early for your health and safety. Most pharmacies will deliver.”