As coronavirus spreads, communities are demanding notification of local cases

In Manhattan Beach home, two people are self-quarantined after they were diagnosed with the coronavirus, city officials say.
(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

Manhattan Beach city officials recently learned that two people were diagnosed with the coronavirus and self-quarantined inside a home there.

But the confirmation didn’t come from the county or state.

The city only heard about the cases when one of the people called City Hall to say he’d tested positive, Manhattan Beach Mayor Richard Montgomery said Friday. He said L.A. County public health officials have declined multiple requests to disclose whether there are other coronavirus cases in Manhattan Beach.

“We’re frustrated because we don’t know and that’s worse,” Montgomery said. “Nothing is worse than not knowing. … What scares me is how many other people in my city have been tested or not tested or confirmed.”


The two people had been traveling overseas together with a larger group when they became ill, the city said Thursday in an news release. Montgomery was unable to say exactly how long they have been self-quarantining but said it appears “they’ve been there for a while.” They receive regular food deliveries and a daily visit from a nurse sent by the county, he said.

Montgomery said Manhattan Beach has already taken steps to slow the spread of the virus, including canceling town hall meetings and pausing programs for older adults. But he might have done so on an accelerated timeline had he had all the facts, he said.

“I’d have taken those steps earlier if I’d have known for sure we had it,” he said. “That was a danger — we did not know. We could have taken preventive steps earlier and contained this better if we’d have known this two weeks ago, three weeks ago.”

Supervisor Janice Hahn’s office told Manhattan Beach that public health officials will not confirm or report coronavirus cases to a local agency “unless there is known public exposure or need to cancel an event or close a facility,” the city said in the release. The Department of Public Health has cited patient privacy laws in keeping the information under wraps, Montgomery said.


Montgomery said that since the city announced the positive results, he’s been inundated with phone calls from upset residents, and he imagines other local mayors have been too.

“We are all getting phone calls from residents who are angry that they don’t know who is sick in their city because the county won’t tell us,” he said.

Montgomery said he plans to “express his frustration” on Friday when he, along with the mayors of Redondo Beach, Torrance, El Segundo, and Hermosa Beach, meet with Supervisor Janice Hahn and the L.A. County Department of Public Health in attempt to get answers about the geographical location of coronavirus cases in the county. He hopes to press public health officials to provide a list of cases by ZIP code, which he believes would not violate patient privacy rules.

“We need the L.A. County Department of Public Health to help us, to help calm down the fear of our residents because that’s what partners do,” Montgomery said. “They can’t ask for our cooperation on one hand and turn us down on the other.”


The health department did not immediately return a message seeking comment in response to Montgomery’s allegations.

But it appears that officials may comply with his request.

Dr. Barbara Ferrer, director of the department, said at a news conference Friday that officials on Monday will release geographic locations and age groups of the county’s 40 known coronavirus cases.