Temecula council hears information from health officials, declares local emergency

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The Temecula City Council heard presentations from local health officials and declared a local state of emergency during its March 24 meeting, conducted entirely via teleconference due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

Jose Arballo, spokesman for the Riverside County Department of Public Health, and Darlene Wetton, CEO of Temecula Valley Hospital, called into the council’s meeting addressed councilmembers.

“As we started weeks ago, the majority of the cases were in the Coachella Valley, but just as we have expected, the cases have begun to stretch into the western part of the county,” Arballo told the council.

As of Sunday, March 29, there were 14 cases in zip codes covering Temecula, and 37 in the southwestern Riverside County region overall. Eight people have died countywide.

“At this point, we are continuing to expect an increase in cases countywide as our testing continues to grow,” Arballo said, noting that Riverside County had begun community testing at The Diamond stadium in Lake Elsinore. Arballo said 300 people were tested on the day of the council’s meeting.

“We are expecting what we are calling a medical surge, and that is the area where the impact on hospitals and other facilities are gonna hit a critical point, and we’re working with hospitals throughout the county prepare for that (expected) surge,” he said.

Wetton gave a brief presentation on the virus, reminding everyone that it spreads person-to-person, through respiratory droplets, which can be released when a person sneezes or coughs. People can avoid putting others into contact with the virus by covering their mouth during a sneeze or cough, and can avoid contracting it themselves by washing their hands often, especially before touching their face.

“If you don’t remember anything else from tonight’s presentation, wash your hands,” she said, clarifying that it’s important to wash them for at least 20 seconds.

She also expressed the importance of social distancing.

“(The virus) is everywhere in every community, so you need to protect yourself and your loved ones,” Wetton said.

The only action item on the council’s agenda for its March 24 meeting was the declaration of a local emergency due to the coronavirus pandemic, which opens up the city to receive federal emergency funds and gives the city manager certain emergency powers relating to the use of city funds, allowing him to approve contracts and expenditures that ordinarily would be put before the city council.

“When you read on social media tomorrow or tonight, or you see it on the face of the paper, ‘Temecula declares an emergency,’ don’t go hoarding toilet paper, don’t go running to the store and clearing the shelves,” Temecula Councilman Mike Naggar commented during the meeting. “It is a necessary formality so that we are prepared to deal with what we are dealing with.”

The council will be required to review and re-approve the emergency declaration at least once every 60 days, should the pandemic situation continue.

Will Fritz can be reached by email at wfritz@reedermedia.com.