Pasadena Leaders Reflect on the Impact of COVID-19 in our Community

We revisit conversations begun two months ago to gauge how people and businesses in Pasadena fared throughout the long shutdown.

Home isolation has transformed our way of life during the COVID-19 pandemic, causing economic and social impact the likes of which we have never seen. “We are all overdosed on Netflix and Amazon Prime and spending way too much time staring at screens,” admits Paul Little, president and CEO of the Pasadena Chamber of Commerce. “But we’re finding creative and safe ways to interact with friends, family, and neighbors.”

Paul Little, president and CEO of the Pasadena Chamber of Commerce

“Typical personal vacation plans and hobbies outside of work have been forced to be put on hold, at least for the time being, not just for healthcare workers but for virtually everybody,” says RN Sean Hart. “Personally, I love to fish, camp, and hike, so as things begin to slowly reopen I hope to get out and start enjoying this great earth that God created.”

Everyone has had to make major adjustments worrying about infection and keeping social distancing. Many people are off work, have amassed debt, see their economic and social plans fall into disarray, and face an unknown future. “We’re all turned upside down,” says Pasadena Mayor Terry Tornek. “There is a lot of uncertainty right now.”

COVID-19 on Health

The pandemic has had a major impact on family and friends. “There are people who have lost a loved one, that’s the most significant of all,” says Tornek, who attended Dorothea Bradley’s funeral on May 17. “Losing her punched a hole in the fabric of our community.” Tornek also acknowledges the virus has been a huge problem in nursing homes, which have had scandalous conditions for years.

There has not been a mass influx of infections in hospitals thus far. “We continue to maintain capacity for an increase in cases if that should still arise,” says RN David Letterman.

“Our hospital has begun to accept patients for elective surgeries again so we are slowly opening up,” adds RN Jochen Strack. “In primary care, we will also open up again for non-urgent face-to-face visits.”

“Our plans in the ambulatory clinic setting is to provide the care and testing that we traditionally offer, but to continue to maintain strict screening and social distancing protocols, which requires meticulous planning and a total team effort,” says Hart. “Such things as temperature screenings, mask-wearing, and limiting of family and visitor presence, especially in our waiting rooms, will be instituted.”

COVID-19 on Economy

Local businesses have begun to open their doors, but with the added responsibilities of being safe and respecting social distancing. Tornek says the goal is to have businesses operating with intense sanitation and appropriate social distancing. “The landscape is changing every day,” he says.

Pasadena Mayor Terry Tornek

“Businesses are suffering greatly,” says Little. “Those that are open are lucky to be bringing in 15% of the income they saw a year ago. Restaurants and retailers are feeling it the most at this point. It is very emotional, very difficult, and very daunting for small local businesses in Pasadena.”

“There is a very high level of anxiety among customer-serving businesses and they need significant and speedy accommodations from the City, Los Angeles County, and the State of California,” says Little. “I have to commend the staff of the Planning, Public Health, and Transportation Departments of the City. They’ve been doing terrific work very quickly to try to get businesses opened safely, appropriately, and quickly.”

The Chamber of Commerce has seen a drastic drop in revenue and a huge demand for help from its members. “We are doing everything we can to support our members and help them re-establish their income and withstand the havoc that has enveloped all of us,” says Little.

Many local businesses are reopened, but have been severely affected by the shutdown. P.M. Jacoy Menswear owner Tony Jacoy says business is slow and the long-term impact of being shut down continues to be felt. He wonders why a store like Costco was allowed to remain open during the pandemic. Like P.M. Jacoy, Costco sells clothes and jewelry. “If they could open up for business, why couldn’t we?” he asks.

“It has affected us pretty drastically, forcing us to close and lose a lot of events that had to be canceled or postponed,” says Marina Santos, general manager of Jacob Maarse Florists. Despite opening again, things are not the same. “Part of the business has gone back to normal except for big events, which probably won’t come back until next year,” notes owner Hank Maarse.

Some businesses have prospered by serving people stuck at home. “We are doing fantastic and the reason is that people have been home and want to do home improvement,” says Philip Rodriguez, owner of Vista Windows. “People want to feel comfortable at home.”

COVID-19 on Community

It hasn’t all been bad news, however. “For example, people have worked together with the community to support and advocate for those in need, which manifests into volunteering time and resources, and exhibiting acts of kindness,” says Dr. Annette Ermshar of Dr. Ermshar & Associates.

One such example is NOOR providing free meals to local senior citizens every Friday. “We’ve done 1,200 servings a week to the community and we are going to continue until we reopen,” says Robert Shahnazarian, senior vice-president of sales and marketing.

RN Sean Hart

It will be important to keep vigilant and be safe as we move forward, says Hart. “The overall atmosphere is one of caution, as we expect there to be a rebound in infection rates as society as a whole begins to reopen.”

“This virus has been continuously underestimated,” says Tornek. There will be more cases of people getting sick if people do not wear masks and respect distancing. “Hopefully, we will have modified behavior with people respecting social distancing and wearing masks.”

If not, he warns, restrictions will have to be reimposed. “Retightening would be hard on everybody and for people to comply.”

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