Newport Beach, Huntington Beach city halls close for two weeks due to winter COVID-19 surge

Newport Beach City Hall
Newport Beach City Hall is closed again for two weeks after the holiday weekend. Staff say it’s in response to a surge of COVID-19 cases in the community.
(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)

For at least the fourth time since the pandemic began in early 2020, Newport Beach City Hall closed its doors Monday for two weeks in response to what city staff say is the uptick in cases of COVID-19.

They weren’t alone, as nearby cities had made similar moves by Tuesday morning to either temporarily shut down their city halls or shift their meetings from in-person to virtual formats.

Officials in Huntington Beach announced a closure Tuesday for the time being, out of caution.

Laguna Beach and Costa Mesa city halls remained open for regular business as of Tuesday afternoon, but Laguna Beach spokeswoman Cassie Walder confirmed all public meetings will be held virtually over the next two weeks.

Fountain Valley is also keeping the doors to its city hall open, but City Manager Rob Houston said the city is continuing to abide by the state mask order.

Newport Beach’s closure extends to all community centers but not the city’s libraries, which will remain open except for group gatherings. Recreation programming is expected to continue throughout the closures. Services are unlikely to be affected, though some will be conducted through virtual and drop-off programs.

In Huntington Beach, parks, beaches, community centers and libraries will remain open. All public meetings in Huntington Beach are expected to go virtual.

Newport Beach spokesman John Pope said the closures in his city are a reaction to both the community surge and an increase in employee cases of coronavirus infection over the holidays.

The city does not collect data on vaccination rates among city employees, but Pope confirmed that at least 30 cases among staffers were reported over the holidays alone. Prior to that, there were only one or two cases reported every few days or once a week.

“Not all of those cases were from work exposure ... but one case can require multiple quarantines depending on exposure levels,” said Pope, who added that all employees who test positive are required to report it, regardless of where the exposure took place.

“So a big concern, beyond the health and safety of employees and the public, is our ability to maintain service levels if large numbers of employees have to quarantine,” said Pope.

Officials in Huntington Beach shared similar sentiments.

City spokeswoman Jennifer Carey confirmed Tuesday that department heads were encouraging city staff who were able to work remotely to do so to help ensure adequate staffing levels at Huntington Beach City Hall throughout the closure.

“There are still people working at City Hall, but anyone who has the capacity to do their jobs at home, we’re asking them to stay home,” she said. “We want to do everything we can to ensure staff aren’t getting sick so we can maintain levels of service.”

While the anticipated closure is intended as a temporary precaution to preclude fallout from anticipated post-holiday winter surge activity, Carey said officials may have to regroup if it becomes a longer term scenario.

“With the exponential growth of new COVID-19 infections, and new daily infection rates being the highest since the onset of the pandemic, it is prudent for the city to enact temporary strategic measures to reduce the spread and transmission of COVID-19 throughout our workforce while maintaining adequate staffing across all departments for the convenience of those we serve,” said Huntington Beach Mayor Barbara Delgleize in a Facebook post addressing the temporary closure.

“These measures proved effective helping the city maintain service levels to the community and providing protection to our employees during previous COVID-19 waves,” she said in the post.

“These measures include reducing in-person meetings and utilizing more digital options such as Zoom, reducing the in-person work force and provide work-from-home options for those who may be most vulnerable — whether due to their own health circumstances or the relative risk associated with their respective work environments,” the mayor added.

Other agencies are also temporarily closing, including federal courthouses in Santa Ana, Los Angeles and Pasadena, where criminal and civic jury trials have been postponed for at least three weeks.

The Omicron variant, in particular, is a concern for county health officials, who reported the first case of the variant in the county on Dec. 17. South African scientists identified the variant in November.

As of Tuesday, data revealed that Delta remains the dominant strain, but there have been at least 21 cases of the Omicron variant in the 18-to-34 age group. Fewer individuals identified as having caught the variant were in older age categories: Four cases were in people ages 35 to 54, one case was reported in the 55-to-64 age range, two cases in the 65-to-74 group and one case in a person older than 74.

There were 614 cases hospitalized, with area hospitals reporting at least 110 COVID-19 patients in intensive care units, up from the 420 reported in hospitalization on Thursday.

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