Updated: Pepperdine President Tests Positive for COVID

Malibu’s novel coronavirus cases remain low compared to other areas of Los Angeles County, but each week more residents test positive for the virus, with the rate of new cases continuing to rise sharply since a spike began in early November 2020.

Update, Jan. 8: By Thursday, Jan. 7, a total of 238 Malibuites have tested positive for the novel coronavirus, meaning an additional nine locals tested positive for the virus between Tuesday and Thursday of this week, a continuance of a surge in cases that has been recorded both locally and across Southern California.

The Curative coronavirus test used across much of LA County—though not at Malibu’s test site—has been known to produce false negatives, according to news that broke in the LA Times on Thursday: “The guidance from the Food and Drug Administration warns healthcare providers and patients that the test made by Curative, a year-old start-up founded in Silicon Valley that supplies the oral swab tests at L.A.’s 10 drive-through testing sites, carries a ‘risk of false results, particularly false negative results.'”

According to the LA Times’ reporting, the FDA approved the test only for “symptomatic individuals within 14 days of COVID-19 symptom onset.” In contrast, Malibu’s City Hall test site—which is not operating this week—uses the “RT-PCR test, commonly referred to as the nasal swab test,” according to the City of Malibu.

Jan. 5, 2020: Among the latest local diagnoses of COVID-19 in Malibu are Pepperdine University President Jim Gash and his wife Joline, who announced on Monday, Jan. 4, that they had received positive test results for the viral disease. According to the university, the Gashes were “exhibiting mild symptoms but doing well,” as of Tuesday.

The Gashes tested positive in the midst of the largest surge in cases both locally in Malibu and across Southern California since the virus was first identified here in early 2020. 

In the week from Tuesday, Dec. 29, through Monday, Jan. 4, 18 Malibuites tested positive for the virus, another record-setting week for new cases. Prior to the latest surge that began in mid-November, a total of 122 Malibuites had tested positive for the virus (from April 6-Nov. 9); since Nov. 9, that number has gone up 52 percent, nearly doubling to 229 total residents who are or have been infected. In total, five Malibuites have been killed by COVID-19.

Countywide, a staggering 11,000 people have been killed by COVID-19—more than one in 1,000 county residents—with an average of 184 deaths reported each day this week.

“Pepperdine University President Jim Gash learned yesterday that he tested positive for COVID-19,” a statement provided by a university spokesperson said. “Consistent with university protocols and CDC and LA County Public Health guidelines, President Gash is currently isolating at home with his wife, Joline, who also tested positive for the virus. Although the Gashes have been closely adhering to safety protocols since the pandemic began, both received a test after learning they came into contact with immediate family members who later tested positive for COVID-19.”

On Monday, the Pepperdine Graphic newspaper wrote that Jim Gash announced his illness in a university-wide email, which the university later shared. In that message, Gash said he would continue working and included a message encouraging students to wear masks and follow precautions.

“Rising case counts also serve as a reminder that we should be vigilant in working to keep one another safe,” the university president wrote. “Please continue to wear a mask, practice social distancing, avoid crowds and follow all other guidance provided by our public health agencies. Together we can help slow the spread of coronavirus as we look forward to the new semester ahead.” Pepperdine remains fully remote with all classes online; however, numbers published in the Graphic show a total of 103 cases of COVID-19 reported in the university community including 43 employee cases and 60 student cases. Cases on Pepperdine’s campus, not within the legal city limits of Malibu, do not count toward the city’s number; however, any off-campus cases among students or staff who live in the city of Malibu would.

As of Tuesday, 7,898 people with COVID-19 were hospitalized across the county; 21 percent of those were in ICUs. Those numbers mark another all-time high amid the latest, deadliest surge of the virus that began around Thanksgiving.

Conditions were expected to worsen, according to reports from county health experts, with continued gathering for the winter holidays of Christmas and New Year’s Eve resulting in cases that have not yet begun showing symptoms. 

In a story published in the LA Times, the county suggested additional precautions to stay safe as the virus continued to spread: 

• If you’re going to work or to buy groceries, try never to remove your face covering when near others.

• Avoid eating or drinking with anyone not in your household.

• Wash or sanitize your hands every hour if you’re around others.

• Take a break from shopping.

• Don’t go to any gatherings with people outside your household.

• Exercise by yourself or only with others from your household.

On Tuesday, LA County Supervisors passed a measure to extend a moratorium on evictions countywide through Feb. 28, which will result in Malibu’s eviction moratorium also expanding, after city council voted last May to align local measures with the county’s decisions. Also approved by LA County Supervisors was mandatory “hero pay,” for grocery and drugstore workers in unincorporated areas of LA County. The proposal would see employees at national chain drug and grocery stores earn an additional $5 per hour in hazard pay; however, it did not apply to incorporated cities such as Malibu.