Less than two weeks after Burbank surpassed a total of 5,000 COVID-19 cases on Dec. 29, it appeared that the city would breach the 6,000-case mark as a nationwide surge continued. The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health reported on Thursday that 5,856 people in Burbank had tested positive for the coronavirus as of the previous day, putting the seven-day average of new daily cases in Burbank at 106.3. That average had been as high as 114.3 on Christmas, thanks partially to a case backlog. Also as of Wednesday, 129 Burbank residents had died due to the disease since the pandemic began. More than 65 of those deaths were connected to cases at nursing facilities, according to the city’s emergency management coordinator, Eric Baumgardner. Public Health officials also reported this week that more than 200 people were dying from the coronavirus every day in the county, and that more than 8,000 were hospitalized with the disease. One in five people getting tested for COVID-19 are testing positive. As of Wednesday, more than 871,000 people in L.A. County had tested positive, and more than 11,500 people had died. Those figures were roughly 458,000 and 7,900, respectively, a month earlier.
Many are glad to have the year 2020 in their rearview mirror, and Matt Hill shares the sentiment. The Burbank Unified School District superintendent dealt with the defeat of a parcel tax proposal that led to layoffs of teachers and staff members, a pivot to distance learning after campuses were shut due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and difficult conversations with stakeholders about diversity, equity and inclusion. “There was nothing in my education or training that could have prepared me for a year like this,” Hill told the Leader in a recent interview. It certainly took a toll on the Burbank community, but the silver linings were enough to keep Hill optimistic going into the new year.
A new city program is partnering volunteers via phone with local seniors who are feeling isolated or lonely during the pandemic. Besides offering seniors someone to talk to while bunkered down against a virus particularly dangerous to them, the free “Phone Pals” program also allows volunteers to refer seniors to various basic-need initiatives they might benefit from. The program officially launched the week of Dec. 14 and is run through the Burbank Park and Recreation Department’s Joslyn Adult Center. By the end of the week, the adult center’s recreation coordinator Beth McQuitty estimated that between 25 and 30 people had signed up to volunteer for the program.
A hearing at which a Los Angeles County department will attempt to revoke the health permit of a local restaurant that continues to offer outdoor dining in defiance of government restrictions is scheduled for the week of Jan. 17, according to county officials. An exact date was not immediately available. Tinhorn Flats Saloon and Grill, which has offered in-person dining since Dec. 10, has frustrated many local residents and city officials concerned that the practice could contribute to the spread of COVID-19, in which there has been a major surge. A state health order prohibits in-person dining in most of California because of overburdened hospital intensive care units, and a county health order did the same in late 2020.
Burbank will not be considering the feasibility of creating its own public health department anytime soon, City Council members decided this week. The panel voted Tuesday to push the discussion of the feasibility study back six months, with some members believing that the $25,000 that city officials estimated the study would cost could be better spent elsewhere — particularly since it was highly unlikely Burbank could break away from the county health department before the pandemic ended. In June, then-Councilman Tim Murphy asked city staff members to bring back a potential feasibility study on creating a public health officer role, citing confusion some residents were having about the hierarchy of health departments.
As coronavirus cases continue to skyrocket in Burbank, several senior care facilities in the city have reported outbreaks and deaths, according to a county health agency. The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health dashboard on Thursday listed 10 Burbank residential congregate and acute care facilities with COVID-19 outbreaks, a term that, in the county’s usage, can vary in meaning depending on the type of facility. Some locations in Burbank, the county reported, had fewer than 10 cases among residents and staff, but a few had many more. Two Le Bleu Chateau facilities, for example, reported that more than 70 residents had tested positive for COVID-19. A total of 11 staff members at the assisted living facilities also had the disease, and seven deaths were reported to be linked to the outbreaks, though the county reports only a single total for staff and resident deaths. The county reported an outbreak at the first facility on Nov. 30, and at the second facility on Dec. 11. Both have remained on the outbreak list since. Public Health usually removes facilities from the list once the outbreak is over, but has sometimes been slow to do so.
After 40 years of serving his loyal customers in and around the city of Burbank, Mahmud “Mike” Abdelghani, the man known as the “Donut Prince,” retired on Dec. 31. Abdelghani, 65, a resident of La Cañada Flintridge, adopted his nickname when many of his customers had trouble pronouncing his given name, so he has been affectionately known by “Mike” ever since opening shop in Burbank. Abdelghani was born in Giza, Egypt, the middle child in a family of three brothers and five sisters. In his early teens, he immigrated to the United Kingdom. in pursuit of furthering his education and improving his English, as he was already fluent in Arabic and French. While studying and living in England, he also worked full time at various restaurants as a waiter. Because of his language skills and his friendly personality, his boss singled him out for serving in his upscale silver service restaurant.
From the window of my home office, I have a great view of Memorial Field on the campus of John Burroughs High School. For the past 26 years, that view has always given my wife and me a good laugh during the first two weeks of January. That amusement stemmed from the front-row seat we have had to a slice of the human condition. Beginning on Jan. 1 of each year, to manifest on the resolutions they made the night before, Burbankers would make the track and field on the Burroughs campus one of the most popular places in the city. From the break of dawn on the year’s first day on into the evening, the track became a human traffic jam composed of runners, joggers, fast walkers and sashayers. On the field, even more people claimed a spot to do situps, pushups and all sorts of other forms of calisthenics.
Former Burbank schoolteacher and current resident Helen Von Seggern celebrated her 107th birthday on Dec. 12. One of her mantras to a long life is, “Always have something to look forward to.” “Delta Kappa Gamma Society International’s Beta Epsilon chapter could not be more excited for her,” a spokesperson said. “2020 marked her 50th year as an active member of this chapter in which she fulfilled many roles from chapter secretary to vice president. Until the onset of the pandemic, Helen attended meetings faithfully, greeted members with an enthusiastic smile, and was ready to engage in social discussions on topics ranging from the latest educational trends to the politics affecting education today on a national scale.” Von Seggern started her career in 1952 in Escondido, teaching high school English. After six years, she moved to Burbank where she began as a preschool classroom assistant and then quickly became a preschool teacher. Her innovative nature and expertise lead to her directing role as resource teacher for the Parent Education Program, located on the grounds of Burbank Unified Schools’ Adult Education Center. She touched countless parents and children through this position from 1976 until 2001, when she retired.
When Ted Napolitano turned 98 the day after Christmas, he knew not to expect a large indoor celebration because of COVID-19 restrictions. But he didn’t anticipate the kind of party his granddaughter Camille organized. Napolitano, who has lived in the same Burbank house for 65 years, where he and his late wife, Josephine (deceased 2001), raised their seven kids, was surprised and delighted when a birthday drive-thru parade coursed past his house. Family members made posters, yard signs, decorated their cars and had confetti poppers as they drove past waving and honking their horns. Napolitano was honored to have so many family members and friends drive from Lancaster, Valencia, Boyle Heights, Covina, Play Del Rey, Torrance, San Pedro, Westchester, Huntington Beach and, of course, from North Hollywood and Burbank, all to wish him a happy 98th birthday. And for those who lived too far away, he received calls and texts from family all across the state, country and a FaceTime call from his granddaughter Alicia, all the way from Scotland. Napolitano is blessed with seven kids, 24 grandchildren, 31 great-grandchildren, two step-great-grandchildren and two great-great grandchildren . When Napolitano is asked his secret to longevity, he usually replies “I eat two pieces of dark chocolate daily.”