With the city’s confirmed COVID-19 cases growing to 11 based on Tuesday’s announcement from the county, San Marino Fire Chief Mario Rueda encouraged residents to “stay the course” by adhering to social distancing recommendations and to avoid public gatherings whenever possible.
“We are still taking our cues from the experts and they are advising that we stay the course and continue on with our current procedures,” said Rueda in an interview.
Rueda took issue with several resistance efforts across the country by protestors demanding a rapid return to normalcy and a lifting of quarantine efforts. The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in strict guidelines against public or private congregation, known as “Safer at Home,” and has shut down all schools and businesses except those considered “essential” in order to contain its spread.
“It is understandable that people want to get back to normal,” said Rueda. “I can see a frustration in people because their lives are upside down. We have been disciplined this long, let’s keep going. Stay the course. Maintain physical distancing and take care of yourself.”
The disease is responsible for 1,000 deaths in Los Angeles County, according to the Department of Public Health. In the county, there are 20,976 verified cases of the disease, which is caused by a novel coronavirus that emerged in November and has no vaccine. The county’s report does not take into account individuals who once had the virus and may have recovered, but keeps only a cumulative total of cases as they are diagnosed.
Police Chief John Incontro reiterated the need to remain diligent, and said he was on a Tuesday morning walk in Lacy Park that provided a reminder of that directive.
“I think that maybe 40% of the people were wearing masks and many did not have a mask in their possession,” said Incontro. “It is really important for people to stay strong right now. Be mindful of protecting yourselves and protecting your neighbors.”
As it stands, the county’s “Safer at Home” order is slated to expire on May 15, provided an updated order isn’t enacted. The current iteration of the order — the sixth since March 16 — was approved on April 10 and largely complies with executive orders imposed by Gov. Gavin Newsom.
“I know it’s been a long six weeks, and there will be three more at least,” Mayor Gretchen Shepherd Romey said at last week’s City Council meeting. “I hope we can enjoy our parks and our neighborhoods together safely.”
Given that schools have largely pulled the plug on the remainder of their school years and venues are canceling concerts and events well into the summer months, the county is expected to continue some sort of restrictions. At the very least, no one expects a switch to flip and for business to return to normal.
“I would expect parts of that to continue,” Rueda told the City Council, adding that this is the first time all 50 states have simultaneously been under a state of emergency.
At last week’s meeting, the City Council approved creating essentially an $85,000 expense account for the city, with several line items of anticipated purchases by various city departments related to the COVID-19 response through the end of the fiscal year.
These anticipated expenditures include $25,000 for personal protective equipment, or PPE; $12,000 for increased police vehicle cleaning; $7,200 for increased custodial services; $5,500 for any necessary translation to Mandarin; $3,600 for the new audio-visual setup for remote City Council meetings; $1,000 for emergency signage; and $700 for two months of a newly developed texting platform related to COVID-19 updates.
A $11,930 item for as-needed deep sanitizing of contaminated workspace was removed after publication of the agenda report because one of the San Marino Fire Department’s captains was recently trained on in-house producing and using a cleaning solution strong enough for this purpose. Additionally, there is $30,000 approved for up to 300 overtime hours for a fire department captain, for the daily management of the emergency operations center.
“This is staff’s best recommendation to go through June 30,” said Finance Director Paul Chung.
The money won’t immediately be spent, but will rather be drawn down for the purchase as needed. Any remaining funds would simply roll back into General Fund reserves after June 30, when the current fiscal year ends.
Chung added that he expects the city to be reimbursed for most of the spent money, with the Federal Emergency Management Agency likely to bankroll 75% of the expenses and the state Office of Emergency Services expected to pick up the majority of the remaining quarter. The $4,500 approved in March for pandemic-related expenses also will be run through the same reimbursement process, Chung explained, and that thorough documentation will go into getting the city its money.
“FEMA loves copies,” Chung noted with a laugh. “It really comes down to documentation, documentation, documentation. That’s what they rely on.”
Incontro said his department continues to function at full capacity and has added warning signs in key access streets warning motorists against a speeding habit that is becoming popular in light of emptier roadways.
“In just the past two or three days, I think we’ve issued more than 20 speeding tickets,” he said on Friday. “One shift the other night wrote eight.”
In related discussion, Councilman Steve Talt voiced a desire for the city to find a way to solicit feedback from residents on how effective operational changes have been and where the city could have been better throughout the pandemic.
“We’re definitely going to assess our actions after the fact, but right now people have time,” Talt quipped, “so let’s let them strike while it’s hot.”
Additionally, the San Marino Motor Classic, which was originally scheduled for June 13 and later postponed to August 23, has been canceled altogether, with officials citing a need to assure the safety of volunteers, entrants, judges, spectators and supporters. The city has not made an official decision on the status of the annual Fourth of July fireworks show in Lacy Park, but has already begun preparations to hold a virtual Memorial Day ceremony that will be broadcast over the city’s website and other platforms.
Staff writer Zane Hill contributed to this story.