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September 13 marked six months since the City’s first Emergency Declaration responding to the COVID-19 pandemic. After rolling out financial relief, rent support, and public health programs, the City is now planning for future reopenings, flu season, a vaccine response, and integrating pandemic learnings into long-term quality of life improvements.

Since Santa Monica’s Emergency Declaration was issued on March 13, the City has recorded 834 COVID-19 cases, 42 deaths, and 26,678 tests. 42.4 percent of confirmed cases have occurred among staff and patients at skilled nursing facilities.

As of the six-month mark, Santa Monica’s total confirmed COVID cases are among the lowest in L.A. County and among the lowest of nearby cities on the Westside. Santa Monica currently has a case rate of 902 per 100,000 people, compared to the rates of 1,900 in Beverly Hills and 1,400 in West Hollywood.

“We are cautiously proud of that statistic and think it is a reflection of the whole community participating in implementing COVID-19 measures,” said Lindsay Call, Emergency Operations Center Director. “I think now after 6 months we know what works and as a community we need to keep our foot on the gas pedal to make sure we continue to implement those prevention measures for the next six months.”

In the course of responding to shifting community needs and public health guidelines, the city has issued 25 supplements to the Emergency Declaration. The first supplement was the eviction moratorium, which was later followed by an Emergency Rental Assistance program for 307 households over a three month period.

“We know Santa Monica is 70 percent renters and we have continually been aggressive in providing tenant protection, but in a pandemic it was more important than ever that people be able to stay in their homes,” said Lane Dilg, Interim City Manager.

Since the start of the outbreak, over 80,000 pounds of food have been distributed from the emergency food pantry at Virginia Avenue Park, over 10,000 face coverings have been provided to the public, and over 30,000 business compliance checks have been completed with a 97 percent success rate.

The City has also launched a rigorous communication campaign to ensure all residents are aware of public health guidelines and available resources. The City has held 33 public meetings on Zoom, created a hotline that has reached almost 8000 callers, and recorded 1 million views on its COVID-related webpages.

Having weathered the initial phase of the pandemic, Santa Monica’s government is now pivoting its programs and planning for the six months ahead.

One of the first steps is preparing for flu season and urging all residents to get a flu shot in order to prevent a ‘twindemic’. COVID-19 and the flu have very similar symptoms, so it is important people get vaccinations to prevent confusion between the diseases and stress on the local healthcare system. The City is also preparing for the eventual roll-out of a COVID-19 vaccine.

“We are closely looking at COVID-19 vaccinations and what that will look like across our city. We are working closely with the Department of Public Health on the strategies to implement that so that our highest risk groups get vaccinated as well as the general public,” said Call.

While San Diego and Orange County have recently moved forward with reopenings, L.A. County’s case rate has not reached the threshold to shift restrictions. If case rates continue to fall and we do not witness a post labor day bump in cases, it is likely the County will announce new reopenings and the City will work hard to ensure local businesses are in compliance.

The City is also considering ways to incorporate lessons learned from the pandemic into a post-coronavirus world, to maximize the quality of life for all residents.

“We will begin to look at where our short term measures actually improve our lives for the long-term,” said Dilg. “Can we provide more outdoor space for the long-term for outdoor dining? Can we look at converting more public space to non-autocentric uses? How can we work with the school district to provide literary support and children’s services to help our children to thrive coming out of the pandemic?”

Despite the immense challenges heaped upon City employees in recent months, staff report pride in the effectiveness of their response and optimism for the City’s future recovery.

“I had one city staff member say to me recently ‘no better time to be in public service’ and I could tell he genuinely meant it from the bottom of his heart,” said Dilg. “This is both the best and the hardest time to be in public service; it is a time that challenges you, but it is also what we are here for.”

Clara@smdp.com