City Council | Police and Fire Department Chiefs Give COVID-19 Updates

South Pasadena Fire Chief Paul Riddle and Police Chief Joe Ortiz presented key data regarding COVID-19 in the city during Wednesday’s City Council meeting News | SPFD Fire Chief Paul Riddle (L) and SPPD Police Chief Joe Ortiz (R), during a city council meeting on May 20, 2020

Fire Department Update

The number of positive cases of coronavirus in South Pasadena increased by 10 over a week ago as there were 117 reported, as of May 20, according to South Pasadena Fire Chief Paul Riddle, who gave a detailed update on the impact of COVID-19 during Wednesday’s City Council meeting.

Tragically, he noted there are 19 deaths associated with the disease, noting a discrepancy was found on the L.A. County website. Riddle said the City of South Pasadena was recognized to have 18 deaths, but indicated the South Pasadena Care Center, a skilled nursing facility in town, reported 19 total deaths.

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“In speaking to the skilled nursing facility it looks like one of the patients who was transported from the skilled nursing facility that ultimately succumbed to the virus was not a resident of South Pasadena, so was not counted in the city’s total. So, that’s where the small discrepancy was originated,” said the fire chief during the Zoom meeting as council members and City Manager Stephanie DeWolfe participated from their homes.

Out of the 117 positive cases, Riddle said 80 were from the Pasadena Care Center and 37 others reside in the community.

Riddle said the hospitalization rates with those carrying the virus have continued to slightly decrease. The total number of cases in L.A. County requiring hospitalization is 5,966 or 15 percent of those who have tested positive. “That is a slight decrease from 16 percent last week,” he said. “Currently there are 1,531 patients being hospitalized for the virus. Twenty-eight percent of those require ICU intervention and 19 percent are required to be on a ventilator. This slight decrease represents 32 fewer patients in the hospital this week compared to last week.”

The case rate at South Pasadena Care Center remains relatively consistent, with Riddle saying there were two additional cases in the past week, both residents of the facility. He said four deaths were reported in the last seven days.

The status of personal protective equipment (PPE) at the facility “remains good for now,” noting that the county has supplied the center with gowns and N95 masks. He said the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has assisted in providing additional nurses.

“Although, some of the staff that had tested positive and recovered are now returning to the job, so their staffing levels are starting to increase,” said Riddle.

LA County has announced nine new coronavirus testing sites. Discussions continue, explained Riddle, to have testing conducted at established health care facilities, clinics and at major pharmacy outlets.

The fire chief said the inquiries about face coverings are currently heard by his department – how to wear them, when to wear them. “They should fit snugly,” he said. “They should be secured to the ears. They should allow breathing but they should not restrict your breathing. They should be laundered without changing shape. They should cover your mouth and nose.”

He stressed the importance of washing hands before and after applying the face covering. “Obviously, we want to eliminate the touching of the face as much as possible,” said Riddle. “When you’re putting your mask on or taking it off, you want to try not to touch your eyes, your nose, your mouth. And again, you want to wash your hands and make sure they are as clean as possible when taking your mask on and off.”

Face coverings currently are required in LA County, reminded Riddle “any time you will make contact with non-household members. That includes public or private spaces. We get questions, ‘Do I need them if I’m in my yard, do I need them if I’m on a solitary walk? Technically, the answer is no. Again, if you think you’re going to be out in public and there’s a chance you’re going to approach another person who is not in your immediate household, you should always have one with you and be ready to put it on if you are approaching someone else. Go ahead, put on your covering.”

The requirement to wear them, stressed Riddle, is for all LA County residents and for those visiting the county.

“It’s important to remember that face coverings do not replace the need to social distance,” he added. “That is still one of the most effective things we can do to slow the spread of the virus, especially as we continue with the reopening process.”

Throughout the past 10 weeks, Riddle said there have been no significant changes at the local fire station. “The department remains fully staffed, no projected reductions in staffing and/or PPE’s,” he said, noting that training of five probationary firefighters/paramedics is on target. “They are doing extremely well during a challenging time to come to a new department. We have no fire personnel subject to quarantine, and we’re hoping to keep it that way.”

He said calls for service in South Pasadena remain at a normal level.

At the outset of his presentation, Riddle indicated there have been 1,400,000 coronavirus tests performed in California while saying 84,057 were positive, resulting in 3436 deaths for a case rate of 6 percent. In LA County, he said 379,000-plus have been tested, 40,857 total cases, 1,970 deaths for a case rate of 9 percent, and in South Pasadena 117 have tested positive, 19 deaths, for a case rate of 9 percent.

The 117 cases in South Pasadena is a concern of the fire chief and council members like Dr. Marina Khubesrian, who insisted, “It (the virus) is out in the community and we still need to continue the social distancing so we can break the chain.

Police Department Update

It’s not easy to come away with positive news during the coronavirus pandemic, but South Pasadena Police Chief Joe Ortiz reported Wednesday night crime in the city is down 6.2% compared to this time last year.

Ortiz made his comments as part of a COVID-19 update during of the regularly scheduled City Council meeting, joining South Pasadena Fire Chief Paul Riddle and City Manager Stephanie DeWolfe, who also made presentations.

“The police department saw a drop in crime this past month, which is down in almost every category except for thefts from vehicles,” explained Ortiz. “With the number of cars parked on the streets, it creates opportunity.

He is asking for the public’s help in combating these thefts. “Please make sure you lock your vehicles and remove all valuable before leaving,” said the police chief, noting the drop is crime is consistent with most law enforcement agencies across Los Angeles County.

Ortiz said his officers responded to 2,201 calls for service during April, a 9% increase over March. However, there were only 32 arrests in April, a 47% decrease from March,” he said, explaining the reduction is attributed to the stay-at-home order by state and county officials.

In recent weeks, Ortiz and his officers have seen a visible increase in the number of our unhoused neighbors or homeless within the city, “This is partially due to neighboring cities allowing camping in their parks,” he said “The actual number of unhoused who reside in South Pasadena has remained the same. Officers and the Police Department’s H.O.P.E. Team, along with several community groups and non-government organizations continue outreach, providing personal health and hygiene supplies, as well as resources.”

The Homeless Outreach and Proactive Enforcement (H.O.P.E.) Team provides resources and information to help the local homeless population.

From January 2020 to present, Ortiz said the H.O.P.E. team has handled 134 calls for service. Of those calls, 74 of them have occurred since March 13 during the stay-at-home order.  

He said the police department has been dealing with one unhoused neighbor, who is residing on a bench in the 2000 block of Huntington Drive. “The Police Department is working with local officials and members of Union Station to provide the neighbor with appropriate resources and options, as he has been reluctant to take the help so far,” said Ortiz. “The Police Department will continue to work with partners to find a permanent and acceptable solution, taking enforcement action when necessary.”

Ortiz mentioned a significant power outage on Sunday, May 17, that lasted throughout the day into the next morning. Mylar balloons getting tangled in power lines, said Ortiz, caused the outage. Southern California Edison later made the necessary repairs. He said officers provided extra patrols throughout the night in the affected areas to provide comfort to local residents.

Other key issues involving the South Pasadena Police Department include:

• Overnight-parking enforcement from the hours of 2 a.m. to 6 a.m. will not be enforced until June 19, 2020. The City will reevaluate this practice health orders and reopening progresses.  

• Officers and staff continue to keep busy with calls for service, traffic enforcement, extra patrols and educating the community on the most recent stay-at home orders.

• The police department’s executive team and staff continue to work with city departments, neighboring agencies, and community groups to provide the latest information and stay ahead of changes that may be coming during the stay-at-home order.

• Ortiz stressed that the South Pasadena Police Department is and continues to remain open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. “The front lobby remains open during regular business hours,” he said, “however, there are no fingerprint services being provided.”