Mayoral candidates sit during a forum at the Aquarium of the Pacific Monday May 10, 2022. Councilmember Suzie Price's seat remained open because she tested positive for COVID-19 hours before the mayoral forum. Photo by Jason Ruiz

As candidates for the soon-to-be-open Long Beach mayor’s seat took the stage for a forum  Monday night at the Aquarium of the Pacific, organizers announced that one of the front-runners in the race, Councilmember Suzie Price, would not be present after testing positive for COVID-19.

The debate was held inside the aquarium’s new Pacific Visions wing, a massive state-of-the-art theater that opened in 2019. Organizers were able to quickly pivot and allow Price to participate virtually—but the announcement served as a reminder that the pandemic is not over. As of May 6, the city’s case rate and positivity rate—two key indicators of the virus—had more doubled since mid-April.

Price said she was notified on Mother’s Day that someone she spent time with had tested positive, and learned Monday evening that she was also positive. The fact that Sunday was Mother’s Day stopped Price from interacting with even more people, she said Tuesday.

“On a normal Sunday I would’ve had seven to eight meetings, but we just had three constituent meetings and they were all virtual,” Price said. “Normally, I would be canvassing on a Sunday.”

Price, who is vaccinated, will miss Tuesday’s City Council meeting because the agenda that was posted last week was not amended in time to allow for her to participate virtually. An emergency agenda can be posted 24 hours before the scheduled meeting, but her positive test didn’t come in until 23 hours before tonight’s council meeting.

Testing positive will also affect how she campaigns in the coming days with just weeks before the June 7 primary. Price said she’s been averaging about two to three events per day where she’s either raising funds or meeting potential voters. That will all have to be done virtually until she’s able to come out of quarantine, but she doesn’t think it’s an insurmountable issue.

“It’s different, you always want to be in person, but you can do meet and greets virtually,” she said.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends a variety of quarantine and masking scenarios depending on a person’s vaccination status and if they’re symptomatic.

The CDC says that regardless of vaccination status, a person who tests positive should stay home for at least five days. According to the guidance, the person can end their quarantine after five days if they’re fever-free without the aid of medication or if they do not have symptoms.

Both vaccinated and unvaccinated persons who test positive are recommended to wear a mask while around others for 10 days after a positive test. The next mayoral debate is scheduled for May 19 at the Scottish Rite Temple in Downtown.

Close contacts of Price, those who spent a cumulative 15 minutes around her masked, or unmasked, are recommended to get tested five days after the contact and wear a mask around others for 10 days from the date of contact.

If they’re up to date on their vaccinations, the CDC doesn’t recommend quarantining. An unvaccinated person is recommended to quarantine for at least five days and monitor their symptoms.

Price was at a number of functions in the past few days including a wedding, a debate at the Museum of Latin American Art, multiple in-home campaign receptions and the annual Touch-a-Truck event in Belmont Shore. She posted a picture over the weekend with Mayor Robert Garcia and Assistant City Attorney Dawn McIntosh, who is running for city attorney.

Both Garcia and McIntosh said that they spent about 10 minutes around Price and have both tested negative since being alerted of her positive test.

Campaigning during a pandemic-primary is a new twist for this year’s candidates. The 2020 primary was completed before much of the county shut down due to the initial cases of COVID-19 being detected in the United States and campaigning during the runoff period between March and November was done virtually.

McIntosh said that it’s a challenge because the situation is so fluid with case numbers. Campaigns develop plans for outreach and meeting voters and then there is a spike in cases and sometimes those plans change. But with the primary one month away, candidates will continue to campaign.

“The election isn’t going to move because COVID is here,” McIntosh said. “It’s really difficult.”

Councilmember Rex Richardson, the other frontrunner for mayor, said he’d be getting tested out of precaution but said that this is a reminder that the pandemic is not over.

“The pandemic is real and variants and still happen,” Richardson said. “Not long ago my family was impacted and I wish Suzie a speedy recovery and ask people to be vigilant and mindful that we’re in a once-a-lifetime pandemic.”

Los Angeles County has averaged 1,958 new cases over the 7-day period from May 2 to May 9, the last day it reported daily case numbers. Long Beach has also seen a rise in cases, recording just 64 cases in the first full week of April and 513 cases in the first full week of May.

The city currently has a higher daily case count (10.4 per 100,000 people) and positivity rate (5.8%) than the county, which has a case count rate of 7.7 per 100,000 people and a test positivity rate of 2.1%, according to the most recent city data.

Jason Ruiz covers City Hall and politics for the Long Beach Post. Reach him at [email protected] or @JasonRuiz_LB on Twitter.