With the exponential growth of the 2019 Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) showing no signs of abatement as numbers of infected continue to rise, people are feeling the urgency to prepare. This week California declared a state of emergency after announcing its first death from the virus, with Los Angeles County and the City of L.A. declaring the same shortly after. Beverly Hills now stands ready for local action if the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends it .
Worldwide there are almost 96,000 cases of infection and nearly 3,300 dead from the virus, with clusters of infected continuing to balloon across the globe.
California now has more than 50 confirmed cases and on Wednesday a Los Angeles International Airport worker tested positive for COVID-19, bringing the total number in L.A. County to six.
“Currently there is no known threat of Novel Coronavirus to Beverly Hills,” states the City of Beverly Hills’ webpage (http:// www.beverlyhills.org/novelcoronavirus) dedicated to updating the community about the current outbreak, which was first identified in Wuhan, China.
However, it’s only a matter of time before those infected with the virus do make their way through Beverly Hills, cautions Director of Emergency Management, Resilience and Recovery Pamela Mottice-Muller.
In anticipation of that moment, the City is actively working in partnership with local, state and federal health officials to receive guidance and coordinate response. The Beverly Hills Pandemic Planning Committee is also preparing for any potential impacts from COVID-19 with an eye toward reducing transmission and minimizing illness among City employees, the community and City partners, while also maintaining critical operations and services, minimizing social disruptions and economic impacts, and coordinating response and care.
COVID-19, which is the newest coronavirus to be identified in a family of viruses that spreads primarily through respiratory droplets, appears to mostly affect the elderly and vulnerable populations (those with weakened immune systems).
In addition to practicing good hygiene and remaining vigilant, Mottice-Muller underscored the importance of residents using this time to prepare emergency supplies not just in anticipation of a possible local COVID-19 outbreak which would require people to self-isolate, but also in the event of an earthquake or other disaster.
“We owe it to our ourselves, our family, our neighbors, and our community to prepare for any emergency or disaster including a pandemic where we would have to isolate or social distance,” Mottice-Muller told the Courier. “I am often amazed by the lack of basic preparedness. [Residents should do their] part to mitigate the spread and to prepare for social distancing and potential isolation in our homes. It takes a community: the City, our business and our residents to mitigate, prepare, respond and recover.”
The City recommends having the following supplies on hand in order to best prepare for an emergency: food (including favorite foods), canned goods, produce, foods to freeze, dry goods (rice, pasta, beans, oats), water, drinks with electrolytes, favorite drinks, household supplies, laundry detergent, comfort items (chocolate, coffee, tea, etc.), hygienic products (soap, hand sanitizer, toilet paper, tissues, feminine care products, diapers), prescription medications including flu and cold medicine, over the counter medications (pain relievers, cough and cold medications), first aid and medical supplies, thermometer, contact lenses, hearing-aid batteries, books, games and small bills. In addition, residents are urged to plan for their mental health, the needs of their pets, and to always keep their gas tank at least half full.
Mottice-Muller noted how the fear of COVID-19 touching down locally has helped with overall preparedness by prompting people to actually gather supplies. In light of the current threat, she said it would be wise for people to have food, water and supplies on-hand for seven to 14 days.
Across the world, countries are taking various measures to stop the disease from spreading, including quarantines. Just this week the Louvre Museum in Paris, France closed in response to the pandemic and discussions are now ongoing about cancelling the Summer Olympics in Tokyo, Japan.
As the world continues to shut down, instances of panic buying and hoarding increase. Runs on face masks and hand-sanitizer mean that local shops now find themselves at a loss to provide patrons with those items. And opportunists are taking to the internet to price gouge items at many times their value, further feeding the frenzy.
As a result, the demand for face masks is making it hard for even healthcare providers to get what they need; or those who truly are most at risk, such as stage four cancer patients getting treatment. Or even those who are already sick and want to protect others.
“I’m getting 50 calls a day easy for these N95 masks,” Pioneer Hardware Store Manager Ryan Hudson told the Courier. “Like most everyone else, we are incredibly out of stock on the N95 face masks, [which] we sell them most of the time for construction workers. We’re doing everything we can to get them back in stock.”
Hudson said the depletion was now at the manufacturer level. As a result, he said that distributors have put limits on individual retailers. Currently, Pioneer has standing orders with distributors for face masks and hand sanitizer (essentially a combination of alcohol and aloe vera gel). A case of sanitizer that came Monday night was completely sold out by Tuesday morning, he said.
Beverly Hills Market owner Shawn Saeedian told the Courier he had been trying to order Purell hand sanitizer for the last two weeks, but hadn’t been able to get any. “Our hope is we’re getting it soon,” he said.
“Basically anytime someone mentions something, then there tends to be a run on it and we don’t have enough of it,” observed Jeff Gross, co-owner of Mickey Fine Pharmacy chains. “I think that people are over-reacting.”
Gross said Mickey Fine ran out of Purell hand sanitizer at the end of last month but is expecting more soon. However, he’s not expecting a new shipment of N95 face masks before late March. The latest “hot” item flying off the shelves, he said, is Cold-eeze, a zinc lozenge that shortens the cold.
“When you’re in a shortage situation, maybe just play nice in the sand box,” Gross suggested, underscoring how the shortage on face masks was penalizing those who truly needed them. “We went through similar things with Anthrax, SARS, Avian Flu, Swine Flu … and maybe this one will be bigger. But we really don’t know. Or is it going to fizzle out?”
In the absence of a vaccine, something that experts predict will take at least a year to create, the world may well be dealing with not just its annual influenza outbreaks but also the Novel Coronavirus, which has a mortality rate three times that of the flu.
Mottice-Muller told the Courier that the Dept. of Public Health has asked cities to push out three messages: practice personal hygiene (wash hands, don’t touch face, avoid handshakes and hugs); stay home when sick, even mildly (the most important strategy according to Public Health); and prepare today for more extensive social distancing and needing to stay home.
“We really need to be responsible and do these things and take care of ourselves and take care of our neighbors by not going out [when sick] and take care of our colleagues by not going work [when sick],” she said. “If you’re not doing it for yourself, do it for others. Even infecting someone with a cold … you could be putting them in jeopardy and not even knowing it.”
Residents are advised to sign up to receive notifications by visiting beverlyhills.org/emergencynotification or texting BEVHILLS to 888777. For additional information about COVID-19, visit publichealth.lacounty.gov or cdc.gov. The City of Beverly Hills Office of Emergency Management can be reached by dialing 310-285-1021.