City of Malibu Prepares for Coronavirus

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The coronavirus continues to dominate news headlines. With California currently leading with the highest number of identified coronavirus cases nationally, local governments are working with county agencies and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) to plan for what’s to come. The City of Malibu is currently preparing a pandemic response plan in preparation of a potential outbreak.

According to City of Malibu Public Safety Manager Susan Dueñas, the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health (LADPH) is taking the lead on helping cities prepare for the virus. Local government and school officials are participating in regular conference calls with the LADPH to receive updates and discuss procedures for when an outbreak occurs, according to separate coronavirus statements sent out by the City of Malibu and Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District (SMMUSD) on Feb. 28.

As of Tuesday, March 3, Dueñas said the city was not currently “overly concerned,” and was monitoring the situation.

“It’s an evolving situation, as I think most people know from watching the news every day,” Dueñas said.

In the meantime, city staff were reviewing their pandemic response plan, something the city did not have in place before the coronavirus, Dueñas said. The plan outlines ways in which the city can continue its daily operations during an outbreak in ways that would not pose a risk to community members or city employees. A template for the plan was provided to cities by the county last week, according to Dueñas.

City staff will be having an “emergency operations services” meeting on Tuesday, March 10, to go over the plan and discuss how to continue government services and which services would need to be put on hold, Dueñas said. For example, programs for the senior center might be cancelled “because they’re a very vulnerable population for this particular outbreak,” Dueñas said.

Malibu City Council meetings and all other public meetings, Dueñas said, would not be able to take place during an outbreak because they legally cannot be held unless citizens and officials can attend in person. 

The LADPH has been working with cities on their coronavirus messaging as well, according to Dueñas.

“Today, one of the requests was that we encourage everybody to begin preparing for possible closures, like school closures, particularly,” Dueñas said. “So, you know, working parents who depend on having their children in school or at childcare need to start making plans for what they are going to do if that can’t happen for a period of time.”

According to the SMMUSD statement, there are currently no school closures planned in Los Angeles County.

“However, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) did advise that it expects more cases in the United States and that communities should be prepared for a further, possibly generalized, spread,” the SMMUSD statement said.

Dueñas emphasized that people should not panic.

“The mortality rate is fairly low, but that doesn’t mean we don’t still need to take it seriously,” Dueñas said. 

At this point, there are no plans for testing to be conducted in Malibu. There are not enough tests available at the moment, so tests are currently only being conducted by LADPH on those with “a valid reason to suspect that they have it, either through contact or travel,” Dueñas said. 

At City Hall, there will be, effective immediately, routine sanitation of the building as a preventative measure, Dueñas said. 

“If people come into City Hall and they see us going crazy with wiping things down, we’re doing it for everybody’s safety,” Dueñas said.

When asked what Malibu residents should do to prepare for the virus, Dueñas repeated the most commonly heard preventative measure: “wash your hands.” The school district also emphasized that hand washing is “the key message” they are relaying to students. 

Additional suggestions to prevent the spread of the virus include: wiping down areas (phones, desks, door handles) with disinfectant wipes, using hand sanitizer, avoiding touching one’s face with unwashed hands, avoiding close contact with those exhibiting flu symptoms and staying home and visiting the doctor if sick.

Editor’s note: On Wednesday, March 4, Los Angeles County issued a state of emergency following the first LA-area death due to Covid-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus. On Wednesday, there were six confirmed cases in the county.

The print version of this story was published before the announcement of the first coronavirus cases in Los Angeles County and the subsequent state of emergency. 

“These declarations are a swift response to this emergent issue and will enhance our ability to effectively manage our response,” Supervisor Kathryn Barger, chair of the Board of Supervisors, said in a statement released by county leadership on Wednesday. “These actions will allow us to have even greater coordination to protect our more than 10 million residents and prevent the spread of COVID-19 in our communities,” she added.

As of Sunday, March 8, there were 14 confirmed cases in the Los Angeles area, out of a total of 114 cases statewide.

The Malibu Times continues to track the progress of the virus in Los Angeles County. Check online and in print for updates.