UPDATE: Coronavirus Health Emergency | South Pasadena City Officials Respond to Threat

City and school district are in contact with Los Angeles County health officials in face of the disease

PHOTO: Eric Fabbro | SouthPasadenan.com News | South Pasadena City Council at City Hall

UPDATE for original article originally published on Wednesday, March 4.

Thursday, March 5

Superintendent Geoff Yantz used a familiar sports analogy in his latest correspondence to families with students in the South Pasadena Unified School District as concerns about coronavirus (COVID-19) continue to rise.

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“The best offense is a good defense,” wrote Yantz, saying he wants to provide the most recent information from the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health along with tips to keep families healthy. “We remain diligent in our routine efforts to clean frequently touched surfaces and objects. Our food service department is taking additional preventive strategies to limit exposure and potential spread of illness.  At this time, students and school staff should go about their daily lives and practice the same precautions they normally take during cold and flu season.

On Wednesday morning, as pointed out in his correspondence, the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health announced new cases of coronavirus have been discovered in Los Angeles County, which declared a local health emergency to assist in seeking state and federal funds to help prevent the spread of the deadly virus.

“Please note that none of the new cases were due to community spread but occurred in patients who had been directly exposed to the coronavirus,” noted Yantz

The local school district, said Yantz, works around the clock gathering regular updates and information, stressing that the South Pasadena Unified School District will continue to work in conjunction with the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health “to help mitigate the spread of COVID-19.

Should a coronavirus outbreak take place in South Pasadena, Yantz said local public health officials may direct a temporary closure of local campuses, including the SPUSD Extended Day Program, to help slow the spread of disease.

“Like most school districts, SPUSD does not have the infrastructure or human resources to support a quality, home-school program or distance-learning environment for all students,” he wrote in his letter.  “Now is the time to create a family plan in the event schools are closed for a period of time. Lost instructional time, if not waived by the California Department of Education, will be fulfilled by adding instructional minutes to the school day and/or adding instructional days to the school calendar when school resumes following the closure.”

The following is some information issued by Yantz that families may find useful.

  • The CDC recommends getting a flu vaccine, taking everyday preventive actions to help stop the spread of germs, and taking flu antivirals if prescribed.
  • At this time, experts believe that COVID-19 is spread in large droplets by coughing and sneezing. This means that the air will not infect you. However, all surfaces where these infected droplets land may be infectious for a period of time.
  • If your child is sick at school with mild illness, he/she will be sent home. This is a requirement from the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health.  Mild illness is defined as a fever of 100 degrees F or more, or a productive cough.
  • If your child has a productive cough, that is, a cough with any respiratory droplets being expelled from the nose or throat, he/she must stay home or will be sent home until the cough is no longer producing mucus.
  • A student with a dry cough, such as occurs with bronchial irritation or asthma, and who does not have a fever, may attend school. In an abundance of caution for our students who are immunocompromised, if there is any disagreement among adults as to whether a cough is productive or not, or whether a student has both a productive and a dry cough, we will take the conservative approach and assume that it is productive and send the student home.
  • If your child has a fever of 100 degrees or more, he/she must be kept home until he/she is fever free without fever reducing medications for 24 hours. This means that if your child is sent home from school with a fever, he/she may not be in school next day.  Please do not send your child to school the day after we have sent them home with a fever.  Giving your feverish child Tylenol and sending him/her to school will mask the fever and expose other students and staff to the illness causing your child’s fever.
  • If your child vomits at school, he/she must be sent home. If the child does not have a fever, and has had no symptoms during the night, he/she may return to school the next day. If your child had been vomiting, however, we recommend that he/she waits to return to school 24 hours after symptoms have abated.
  • Hand sanitizer (with minimum 60% alcohol) is acceptable but hand washing is best: using soap & water for 20 seconds; before eating, after using the bathroom, after coughing, sneezing, blowing nose.
  • If you have been in China or have been exposed to someone sick with COVID-19 in the last 14 days, you will face some limitations on your movement and activity. Since travel to South Korea, Iran, and Italy have been upgraded by the CDC to Level 3 (essential travel only), it is possible that in the future, restrictions will be placed on persons who traveled in those countries as well. Please follow instructions from public health officials during this time. Your cooperation is integral to the ongoing public health response to try to slow the spread of this virus. If you develop COVID-19 symptoms, contact your healthcare provider, and tell them about your symptoms and your travel or exposure to an infected person if applicable.
  • Students enrolling in school from countries other than China are not subject to self-isolation at this time, but events are rapidly changing and the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health may announce in the near future that they be subject to social distancing orders.

Earlier this week the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), through its director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, Nancy Messonnier, that self-imposed quarantines could last weeks.

“You may need to take a break from your normal daily routine for two weeks,” she told the Washington Post. “Staying home when you are sick is really important. Don’t let the illness spread beyond you. Stay away as much as you can from other people.

Yantz in his letter said the district is aware of an escalated level of concern and anxiety among families of Asian heritage. “Situations such as these can give rise to discrimination based on perceptions and stereotypes,” he wrote.  “Individuals who make assumptions, even with positive intentions of safety, about the risk of others, can be seen as demonstrating bias and racism, behavior we all want to avoid. It’s important not to make assumptions about students or staff based on their race, country of origin, or travel history.”

Wednesday, March 4

South Pasadena city officials are carefully monitoring the novel coronavirus situation, receiving regular updates on the disease from the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors’ office and Department of Public Health.

During Wednesday night’s City Council meeting, the city’s fire chief, Paul Riddle, will update the community on various risk levels of the disease that L.A. County is sharing with its 88 cities.

“There’s a level-wise risk factor and we’re communicating with L.A. County Public health,” explained South Pasadena City Councilmember Dr. Marina Khubesrian, noting the City of South Pasadena is “very concerned” about the deadly disease. “We’re telling people to be prepared for an outbreak, but to not be panicked. The recommendation is to have a minimum of three days of water, food and supplies for each household member and ideally up to two weeks worth of supplies, including medications. One of the things we’re concerned about is our seniors. We have senior lunches everyday [at the South Pasadena Senior Center] and for some of them it’s their main meal of the day. We’re talking about ways we will be able to reach out if we were not able to host the lunches for seniors. That’s a vulnerable population we’re concerned about.”

Khubesrian said there’s been some talk about creating a volunteer task force to deliver lunches to the homes of seniors should the virus necessitate that action.

With the onset of the coronavirus in the United States, the councilmember stressed, “There’s an opportunity early on to have these conversations” should the situation grow worse.

“We want to be prepared in case a situation were to disrupt students not going to school a couple of weeks or if we have to start cancelling meetings,” she said. “I hope it doesn’t come to that, but what happens if we have to cancel council meetings? How do we get work done in our city when it involves gatherings?”

The dialogue on confronting the coronavirus at the city level has begun. “We hope for the best, but will prepare for the worst,” said Khubesrian.

South Pasadena Unified School District Superintendent Geoff Yantz says the district continues to stay in contact with the L.A. County Office of Public Health, which provides regular guidance and information about the coronavirus issue and “the potential threat it poses,” he said. “We encourage families to emphasize with their children the importance of washing their hands, to use proper hygiene and if they do have a fever, stay home from school and wait the appropriate amount of time before they return. Outside of that, we’re staying in close contact with the county in providing us with guidance. We certainly have a concern for everybody – teachers, staff, students and administrators.”

Chinese health officials have reported thousands of infections with COVID-19 in China. The virus has spread from person-to-person in many parts of that country. The first confirmed case of the virus in the United States was January 30.

On Wednesday, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors and the Los Angeles County Department of Health officials declared a local and public state emergency in the face of novel coronavirus.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that individuals avoid all nonessential travel and the following:

  • Older adults and people with chronic medical conditions may be at increased risk for severe disease.
  • Travelers should avoid contact with sick people and clean their hands often by washing with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with 60%–95% alcohol.
  • Travelers should stay home and monitor their health during travel and for 14 days after returning to the United States.
  • Travelers who feel sick with fever or cough or difficulty breathing should seek medical advice. Call ahead before you go to a doctor’s office or emergency room.