City leaders adopt emergency proclamations as officials assess toll of COVID-19

The Long Beach City Council formally ratified local health emergency decrees by the city manager and the city’s health department days after the city’s official COVID-19 count climbed to three confirmed cases.

The proclamations were issued March 4, days before any known cases of COVID-19 were detected in the city. Since then, the city has confirmed three cases of the virus that has registered over 1,000 diagnoses nationwide as of Tuesday night.

Large events across the city are being cancelled, Cal State Long Beach is considering a move to remote classes and the Big West Conference Championship Tournaments for both men and women—the womens’ tournament is being hosted at the Walter Pyramid—will be played without fans in attendance.

Kelly Colopy, the city’s director of health and human services, said the department started preparing for the coronavirus in December as transmissions of the disease started making international headlines. Colopy said the city’s team of health workers is tracking state and federal guidance, training health providers and educating the public among a slew of other measures to try and prevent a large-scale spread of the virus.

“It really is a full-out press,” Colopy said.

Testing for the virus in the city has been a challenge as Long Beach had previously not received testing kits because it had no confirmed cases of COVID-19. City health officials said that it had tested about a dozen residents as of Tuesday.

Dr. Anissa Davis, a health officer with the city, said that once a confirmed case is found, tracing that person’s movements is a challenge that can include over 100 interviews to see who may have come into contact with the infected person and then daily testing for the patients who won’t be cleared by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention until multiple negative tests.

“We might be testing them every other day for several days or weeks,” Davis said. “So we’re going either to their house or having them come here and testing them. It’s a huge intensive resource demand and it diverts a lot of our staff from our other health programs.”

The short-term impacts of the COVID-19 outbreak is already being felt by nation as stock markets have plunged in recent days and large music events like South by Southwest and Coachella have been cancelled or postponed.

Long Beach has seen large conventions cancelled, which has deprived city hotels of thousands of nights worth revenue and the Port of Long Beach has reported drops in cargo levels due to the virus. No plans have been announced to cancel next month’s Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach; Colopy said her department isn’t currently recommending cancellations but that may change “as the situation evolves.”

Declaring the emergency will require the council to check back in every 14 days to see if the proclamations need to continue. The declaration opens up outside funding opportunities to provide the city with additional resources it might need to combat the spread of the virus but it also allows the city to streamline purchases, hiring of additional staffing and could prioritize the city for reimbursement from state and federal funds.

Acting City Manager Tom Modica said that state and federal dollars could be coming into the city after federal lawmakers approved an $8 billion spending package to help local health agencies combat the spread of COVID-19, but how much is unclear. He noted that the amount of funding making its way down to local jurisdictions does not appear to be large amounts.

“Right now the financial impact is unknown,” Modica said. “We normally try to budget and plan, but in an emergency the primary mission is to solve the crisis.”

Modica said that the city would also continue to monitor possible long-term impacts to the city’s revenue streams like activity at Long Beach Airport and the Carnival Cruise terminal as well as tax revenue that could be impacted by a shift in resident’s spending habits if the COVID-19 outbreak becomes a sustained issue in Long Beach.

He cautioned that with the primary focus being on stopping the spread of the virus that other city functions could be reprioritized.

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Jason Ruiz covers City Hall and politics for the Long Beach Post.