PANDEMIC: City registers two new COVID-19 deaths; Mayor questions if deaths are out of norm

Chart by Bernard Wong/

Chart by Bernard Wong/

Two more Manhattan Beach residents have died as a result of COVID-19, according to the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health.

The deaths were reported in LAC DPH’s daily data releases on January 8 and January 10 and bring the total COVID-19 deaths in Manhattan Beach to six. The city also saw its highest number of new cases in a single week last week, registering 101 cases from January 4 to January 10, bringing the total number of cases in Manhattan Beach to 938 since the pandemic began.

Mayor Suzanne Hadley expressed sympathy for the families.

“It is with sadness that we learned from the County two new deaths from Covid were reported here in Manhattan Beach in recent days,” Hadley said in a statement. “Every death is a tragedy. This virus is real and can be deadly. Despite nearly 10 months of greatly curtailed business and social activity within LA County, our case counts continue to rise. After a several month hiatus, sadly our death count has now risen by 2 — from 4 last fall to 6 now.”

Hadley’s statement also cast uncertainty on whether the two deaths were out of the norm of long term fatality rates in Manhattan Beach, while at the same urging COVID-preventative practices.

“Because of HIPAA [patient-related privacy laws] we do not know if the number of MB deaths from Covid is above or below normal for a comparable time period in prior years,” Hadley said. “But we grieve with the families who have lost a loved one. Until our case counts begin to decline, and the vaccine is widely distributed, I hope all MB residents and businesses will continue to do what we can to wear masks, stay at a safe social distance, and practice good hygiene at home and at work.”

Hadley did not respond to a request to elaborate on her comment regarding whether or not the number of deaths from COVID-19 is normal or not, but the sentiment appears in keeping with her previously stated support of the Great Barrington Declaration, which argues that many COVID-related restrictions are ineffective and that pursuing herd immunity is a better alternative. Hadley made this argument on national television, speaking to an MSNBC reporter from the Manhattan Beach pier arguing against beach closures last June.

“This is not the plague,” Hadley said at the time. “I don’t know anybody who has died; maybe you do. We can’t prevent drunk driving by banning alcohol. We can’t prevent car fatalities on the highway by closing our highways and preventing cars. The role of society is not to prevent death. It’s to inform adults of the risks and the opportunities of life and to let them choose those opportunities and risks.”

Hadley’s stance provoked public outcry and led to a movement against her taking her turn in the City’s automatically rotating mayorship. She became mayor in December after vowing to serve in a unifying manner and to speak for the entire City Council. At last week’s council meeting, she acknowledged the difficulty of issuing a statement on January 2 announcing the city would close outdoor seating for restaurants, an action she opposed. Her statement regarding the new COVID-19 deaths this week also did not mention the aspect of public health orders urging residents to stay at home.

Mayor pro tem Hildy Stern pointedly questioned the part of Hadley’s statement regarding deaths in the city prior to COVID-19.

“I am not familiar with, nor do I understand the relevance of, an effort to gather information on deaths from a comparable time period in prior years,” Stern said. “The city continues to take this devastating disease seriously, recognizing the staggering infection rates and overwhelming impacts to our health care system and our first responders. Our hearts go out to the loved ones of all those who have died because of COVID-19 and to all those who have suffered in any way because of this disease.”

Councilperson Steve Napolitano said he didn’t understand what Hadley’s comments about death norms were intended to convey.

“I’m not really sure what it means, I’ll leave it to her to clarify, but I’m pretty sure it would be of little comfort to the families who have lost loved ones to COVID-19 to know that their losses are within the annual rate of death in Manhattan Beach,” Napolitano said.

Stern also urged residents to stay at home whenever possible.

“We encourage everyone to follow the state and county orders to stay home unless engaged in an essential activity, wear a face covering whenever you leave your home or may come in contact with someone not in your household, and follow physical distancing and hygiene guidelines,” she said.

Former mayor Amy Howorth said that Hadley’s statement was inappropriately blending her private stance with her public role as mayor.

“It’s really too bad that the Mayor felt compelled to add the comment about HIPAA and past years data in relation to the tragic years’ deaths of two Manhattan Beach residents,”

Howorth said. “Firstly, HIPAA has nothing to do with it; secondly last year at this time we didn’t know about COVID. But more importantly, it appears that she is, once again, downplaying the severity of the pandemic…This is a crisis. Nothing about it is normal and we can’t act like it is.” Howorth said she saw a similarity in the mayor’s statement and her advocacy in subverting public health orders by allowing public seating outside restaurants.

“Of course it is sad and terrible that our beloved restaurants are suffering,” Howorth said. “But that is because of the virus, not because of the government regulations. The sheer numbers of those infected in LA County and Manhattan Beach means that the situation is very different than it was in the fall and stronger measures are necessary. There’s been exponential growth.”

At the January 5 City Council meeting, Hadley disclosed that her husband, David Hadley, had COVID-19 and she suspected that she herself may have had the virus. Some city employees were taken by surprise by that statement, since Hadley had worked briefly from her office in City Hall. Asked about those incidents, Hadley acknowledged that during her quarantine she’d twice been to City Hall at times when she didn’t expect anyone to be there.

“The place is normally a ghost town,” Hadley said. “On one of those occasions there were two employees there. I had my mask on, stayed more than 10 feet away and left quickly. We interacted no more than a minute. The other time nobody was there. I love our city staff, I have not come close to endangering anyone at the City.”

City workers are on high alert for COVID-19. The post-Thanksgiving surge that has hit LA County has likewise hit Manhattan Beach, with 409 COVID-19 cases since November 30. Nine city employees have tested positive since December 22, including three in the police department, three in the parks and recreation department, one within City Hall, one at the city yard, and one working offsite. All totalled, 29 city employees have tested positive, including nine within MBPD, six within parks and rec, six at the city yard, five offsite, and one within the fire department.

An outbreak was also reported at Gelson’s grocery store this week. According to DPH data, 25 Gelson’s employees tested positive for COVID-19. ER


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