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State of emergency declared over coronavirus

LOS ANGELES — The Los Angeles City Council discussed methods to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus, COVID-19 March 4, after Mayor Eric Garcetti and county officials declared a state of emergency.

“The step we’re taking today is about preparation, not panic,” Garcetti said. “There is extraordinary work being done alongside our partners in county and federal government to keep Angelenos safe, aware and informed.”

A city website has been established for information on the coronavirusat corona-virus.la.

Aram Sahakian, the general manager of the city’s Emergency Management Department, said the city’s Department of Transportation will continue to operate, but buses and rail cars will be sanitized and cleaned thoroughly before being put back into service.

Other departments are creating plans to be submitted to the Emergency Management Department by March 15 to ensure city services continue to operate while protecting their employees from the virus, Sahakian said. He also said they are looking to protect the most vulnerable populations, such as the homeless, elderly and infants.

“It’s all hands on deck. We will not rest until we feel we’ve got the hang of it,” Sahakian said.

Dr. Muntu Davis, the Los Angeles County Health Department officer, told the City Council that the county is not seeing any “community transmission,” and that the six new patients the county confirmed March 3 have a recent history of traveling to areas with a high concentration of COVID-19.

Davis said the emergency declaration allows the county to enhance and support prevention efforts. He said it is “prudent” to put those measures in place should the disease spread. It will also allow the county to access emergency state and federal funding.

U.S. congressional representatives reached a deal March 4 to use $8 billion in emergency funding to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

The city’s pandemic response plan for COVID-19 is in accordance with guidelines from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. City officials said they could waive the need for doctor’s notes and other evidence when employees call in sick until the coronavirus outbreak has ended.

Davis said that when a person is suspected or confirmed to have had the virus, county health officials will investigate where that person has traveled and how many people they may have come into contact with to determine whether they need to be quarantined. But it’s determined on a “case-by-case basis.”

City Councilman Mike Bonin said he was concerned about the Los Angeles Marathon, scheduled for March 8 downtown, which could bring in competitors from all over the world. Davis said people are being screened at airports, and if they show symptoms, they will be quarantined and won’t be able to participate. He also said the county has worked with the marathon’s organizers to provide more sanitation stations throughout the route.

Davis acknowledged many conferences and other large gatherings have been canceled throughout the state by their organizers, not government officials.

“We are telling people, at this point, what could be some of those worst-case scenarios,” Davis said. “We do want people to think what could [they] do if it gets to that point.”

Davis also said the CDC has provided the county with testing kits and they have an adequate supply.

At homeless shelters, Davis said the county will provide “technical assistance” to reduce potential spread.

“In general, when we think of the homeless population, it’s not so much that they’re at risk of getting the disease itself,” Davis said. “It’s really just that population has a number of underlying conditions that could put them at higher risk.”

Eugene Seroka, the executive director of the Port of Los Angeles, said the coronavirus outbreak has affected the local shipyard, which is forecasting a 25% drop in production for the first quarter of the year.

“In summation, less cargo means fewer jobs,” Seroka said. Per a workforce agreement with dockworkers, “we’re paying them to stay home because there’s not enough work. It is our estimation that the effects of the coronavirus will cost [the shipping industry] tens of billions of dollars in the industry when all is said and done.”

Seroka said the port’s partners throughout the world are trying to dispatch more vessels so global trade can increase.

Crew members who come through the port have been screened for COVID-19, and port officials said they’ve held exercises with U.S. Customs and Border Protection and the Los Angeles and Long Beach fire departments.

The U.S. Coast Guard can determine whether a crew member has been infected and can issue a quarantine either at sea or while a shipping vessel is docked.

Los Angeles World Airports interim CEO Justin Erbacci said LAX officials are also working with CBP and county health officials to make sure they’re implementing the proper screening techniques.

He said the CDC has been primarily screening passengers who have traveled to China with particular emphasis on the Hubei province, where COVID-19 is believed to have originated. The airport has been sanitized throughout, with bathrooms cleaned hourly, and the airport has increased hand sanitizers and placed educational signage throughout, Erbacci said.

LAX departing flights have decreased about 3% since the start of the outbreak, with most of the reductions coming from airlines not flying to China, Erbacci said.

Davis said the CDC’s travel destination website allows people to pick the country of where they’re traveling and what precautions they should take. 

California saw its first death from the COVID-19 March 4, a patient reported by Placer County Public Health officials who had traveled on a cruise ship that was recently quarantined for the virus.

The illness has killed more than 3,100 people worldwide, mostly in China. At least 10 deaths have been reported in the United States. More than 93,000 cases of the illness, officially known as COVID-19, have been confirmed around the globe.

A previous confirmed coronavirus patient in Los Angeles County has since recovered and been released from treatment.

Independent Wire Services