M. Terry / SFVS

Recreation Park in San Fernando

Although the continued rise of COVID-19 cases has caused Gov. Gavin Newsom to again order the shutdown of businesses and facilities in all 30 counties of California, two “cooling centers” in the City of San Fernando will be available for the public during times of extremely hot summer temperatures.

Julian Venegas, director of the city’s Recreation and Community Services, said the centers at Las Palmas Park and Recreation Park are free of charge and — when open — would be available from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.

“The centers are [there] to assist individuals that have no other means to keep cool in a heat alert,” Venegas said. “They are a safety measure. So we will continue to [open them] with each alert, and to make sure that all the guidelines for social distancing are in place.”

When asked by the San Fernando Sun/El Sol how the pubic is notified on the centers’ availability, Venegas said it is through media reports, checking the LA  county’s website, or the City of San Fernando’s website.

The pandemic is affecting the centers in one important aspect. Social distancing requirements will limit the amount of people able to be in a cooling room. A maximum number of 20 visitors can be inside each of the cooling centers at one time, Venegas said.

That could complicate things this summer, especially with other indoor places people could typically go to for air-conditioned temperatures — like malls and movie theaters — being closed by Newsom to discourage widespread gathering.

It remains to be seen if a stretch of extremely hot summer days add unexpected stress to the operation of the centers or create long lines of people trying to get in them.

For the moment, Venegas believes the centers would be able to handle the amount of people that want to use them.

“Last summer we averaged about 6-8 people coming in. We did not get overrun,” Venegas said. “And last year the homeless were not being taken care of like this year, being taken to hotel rooms or other places they can be housed in.”   

The centers become operational, Venegas said, either when city officials receive an alert from county health officials to open them in anticipation of a pending heatwave, or decide to open the centers themselves when temperatures reach 100-degrees or more.

“The health department, based on the weather patterns, will alert all the centers partnered with them to open up,” Venegas said. “The notice goes out that they are getting ready to call a heat alert, and it usually happens 3-4 days prior based on what the weather patterns look like. Then it would be as little as one day when they say to ‘open up.’ They usually give you two days, but it depends on the weather because it can change at a moment’s notice.”

But, Venegas said San Fernando officials can also decide to open their own centers, like they did on July 12 because of hot temperatures.

“Sometimes, like this past weekend, [LA county] does not ask for us to open because they had different centers they were going to open in the Valley. But we felt we wanted them open for our residents,” Venegas said.

There is a specific protocol for entering and using the cooling centers.

At each public entrance, those coming inside will sign in on a visitor’s log each and every time they use the center. All visitors are required to wear masks at all times, as is the staff on hand.

Those entering will be met by a staff receptionist who will ask a series health-related questions. Those who have a cough, fever, or are actively following isolation or quarantine orders, will be denied entry.

Hand sanitizer, soap and water, or disinfectants for the public will be at or near the entrance and anywhere inside the facility, and outside where people have direct interactions. The public restrooms in the parks will be open. The restroom inside the cooling centers will be available for those who are inside.

All areas where tables and chairs are set up will be at least six feet apart. The chairs at the tables will be six feet apart as well.

“We will be cleaning more frequently, changing out the tables and chairs when they’ve been used,” Venegas said. “We’ve added more staff to make sure the area is safe. But other than keeping the place safe and clean, and making sure people are following the social distancing and wearing masks, it’s no different.”