Congresswomen Karen Bass (File Photo)

Congresswoman Karen Bass (D-CA), local healthcare professionals, and local city officials held a telephone town hall on March 17 to address growing concerns about the coronavirus disease 2020 outbreak.

Dubbed COVID-19, it is respiratory illness that can spread from person to person. The virus that causes COVID-19 is a novel coronavirus that was first identified in Wuhan, China, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).

The pandemic has caused worldwide catastrophe and unprecedented disruptions to U.S. corporations, schools, stores, small businesses and bars, restaurants, and more. L.A. County had 144 cases so far, according to L.A. County health officials.

“We’re on a journey together, as a nation that we’ve never been on before, and so to me, when you’re going to embark on un-chartered territory, it’s best that you be as informed as possible,” said Bass, as she began the meeting.

The telephone town hall meeting included Congresswoman Donna Shalala (D-FLA), Dr. Barbara Ferrer (director, L.A. County Department of Public Health), Dr. Elaine Batchlor (CEO, Martin Luther King, Jr. Community Hospital), and Marqueece Harris-Dawson (L.A. City Councilman, 8th District).

Shalala, highly sought after for her knowledge and experience as United States Secretary of Health and Human Services for the Clinton administration), according to Bass, detailed the national overview and what members of Congress is doing to address the crisis.

The outbreak is not contained internationally, but for in a couple of places, stated Shalala.

“We have almost 200,000 cases confirmed around the world, and the deaths are getting close to 8,000,” she stated.

As of March 18, the U.S. had 7,038 total cases and 97 deaths, according to the CDC. All 50 states, plus the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Guam, and the U.S. Virgin Islands, have reported cases of COVID-19, it reported. They included imported cases from travelers; cases among close contacts of a known case; and community-acquired cases where the source of the infection is unknown, the CDC further reported.

“Unfortunately, most of those deaths are people over 70, or people that had complex health problems,” said Shalala.

She pointed out three states with most of the cases so far:  New York, Washington, and California.  That may due to earlier testing in those states, said Shalala.

Congress has responded with two bills, focused on vaccines and tests kits, unemployment insurance, making testing free, and nutrition for the elderly as well as children, according to Shalala.

“We’re talking now about an economic stimulus plan, because the economy clearly has collapsed.  I represent Miami, and you can imagine, the hotels, the cruise-liners, the airports, the airlines, thousands of people are losing their jobs in my community,” she stated.

Dr. Ferrer emphasized the importance of slowing down the spread of the virus, and the need for everyone to help.

L.A. County had 75 new cases in 48 hours, and anticipates a continued increase in the numbers, according to Ferrer.  “I don’t think we’re all that different from other places, that are in the same place on the curve as L.A. County, which is this exponential growth ion the number of new cases we’re reporting,” said Ferrer.

She credits more testing in the county, in part.  But still, there’s not nearly enough testing to manage demands from providers with patients that need to be tested and certainly not enough for the general public seeking their status, she said.

L.A. County only had its public health lab, and was able run tests on approximately 35 people a day, and as of March 17, hundreds upon hundreds of people were being tested daily, according to Ferrer.  Both labs have opened in its hospitals, and commercial laboratories are able to test, she stated.

“That is a very good thing.  I know it’s scary to see the numbers increase, but we have to have a better understanding of who, in fact, is infected, and we also need that information so that people who are seriously ill have an opportunity to get into a clinical trial,” stated Ferrer.

That’s key, because the only treatment options are those being tested in clinical trials, according to Ferrer, who called it a double-edged sword.  “As we increase the capacity, everyone should expect that we’re going to see more cases.  The second reason why we’re going to see more cases is you have more people who we know are infected, and the more people that are infected, the greater the likelihood is that they’ll infect others,” continued Ferrer.

Three key things people can do is avoid public exposures as much as they can.  Stay home as much as they can and go into public spaces if absolutely necessary, she said.  Take advantage of abilities to work remotely and keep children home, Ferrer added.

Feel free to take children for a walk, just not to playgrounds, she encouraged.  “Walk.  Run.  Don’t do it with 20 people.  Do it with a small group of people from your house, and feel free to also note that you can stop in a grocery store and pick up your groceries.  Just be careful.  Don’t stand on long lines.  Try not to be close together to other people, but people can self-isolate as much as possible and still do some of the absolute essential activities that need to happen,” said Ferrer.

Local physicians and hospitals are caring for pandemic patients in emergency departments, outpatient locations, and by preparing for an influx of sick patients, according to Batchlor.  They are also encouraging patients to seek care in alternative locations, when they have mild symptoms, she stated.

Earlier on March 17, the L.A. City Council passed approximately 66 motions to try to mitigate  fallout from the pandemic, according to Harris-Dawson.

In housing, it unanimously passed a moratorium on evictions for non-payment of rent and foreclosures for non-payment of mortgage payments or late fees, he stated.  Also, there would be no utility, including water and electricity, shut-offs for at least for three months under any circumstances, he stated.

Further, the City Council posed a ban on legal street vending, and passed a motion formally  requesting grocery stores to allow seniors, pregnant mothers and disabled people to shop during the first house (either 6-7 or 7-8 a.m).

Residents can also expect lax parking enforcement, meaning there will be no ticketing in residential areas for cars parked on the streets during street-sweeping days, he stated.

Harris-Dawson noted homelessness was a public health crisis before the pandemic, which just exacerbates and ignites an already dangerous situation.

The city removed its policy of removing encampment, and instead will clean the encampments and allow people to set up in the same location, according to Harris-Dawson, and, park bathrooms will remain open on a rolling basis, but in upcoming weeks, but the goal is to have all open on a 24-hour basis, he informed.  Individuals will be able to use showers at parks that have swimming pools, he said.

“That’s important, because many homeless people, particular homeless people that live in cars, hold gym memberships, and the gym is where they take a shower and get dressed in the morning when go to work.  We’ve closed all the gyms, so that isn’t there anymore,” he stated.