With the number coronavirus cases in the county steadily climbing, the city of Palo Alto on Thursday declared a state of emergency, joining a growing number of jurisdictions preparing for the impacts of the spreading pandemic.
The proclamation of the emergency by City Manager Ed Shikada comes days after the city canceled more than 30 events, including town halls and civic ceremonies, to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus. The city has already canceled most of its public meetings and planned ceremonies, consistent with Santa Clara County's recommendations to encourage "social distancing."
Shikada also introduced numerous measures on Thursday aimed to limit face-to-face customer service interaction between the public and staff, including encouraging residents to call, email or make appointments with staff (the full list of changes is available here).
Shikada emphasized in a statement that the city "will continue to provide essential services and community support through thoughtful planning for several impact scenarios during this time of heightened public health risk."
"This is a fast-changing situation, and service changes may continue to evolve," Shikada said in the announcement. "We have already taken several steps to slow the spread of respiratory viruses, including limited public gatherings according to the public health department's guidance. ..."
The Thursday declaration, as well as the new measures, intend to provide Palo Alto with "flexibility in how we can respond to this changing crisis," Mayor Adrian Fine announced Thursday. The emergency declaration, he said, will help Emergency Services personnel "secure vital supplies, funding and assistance." Emergency declarations allow local jurisdictions to activate their emergency plans and become eligible for reimbursements from federal and state governments.
Palo Alto is one of many jurisdictions declaring a state of emergency, which comes the same day that Mountain View made a similar move and a day after the city of Santa Clara made its declaration. San Francisco and Santa Clara County previously declared a state of emergency in their respective jurisdictions.
More than 20 states, including New York, California and Washington, had also announced a state of emergency to combat coronavirus.
Shikada also announced on Thursday a series of service changes, most of which will take effect on March 16. Rinconada Pool was closed as of Thursday, the temporary Junior Museum and Zoo was set to close on March 13, and all Children's Theatre performances were postponed until June. Local libraries are disabling some computers to ensure "social distancing" between users and Development Center will only be accessible by appointment.
The City has discontinued police public tours and police and fire ride-a-longs and sit-a-longs. Patrol operations are also being modified for non-emergency police calls for service that can be completed via phone or video. Officers plan to limit face-to-face public contact and ensure social distancing of six feet when possible.
Other services that are typically provided over the counter, including revenue collections, and Residential Parking Permit programs, will now be offered by appointment, as well as by phone, email and online. And residents looking to attend Monday's meeting of the City Council are encouraged to instead submit their comments via email (those should be sent to email@example.com) and to watch the live broadcast of the meetings rather than appearing in-person.
Residents who still want to attend are asked to sit at least six feet away from other people, to avoid shaking hands and to wait until the podium is clear to speak.
Find comprehensive coverage on the Midpeninsula's response to the new coronavirus by Palo Alto Online, the Mountain View Voice and Almanac here.