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Loma Linda mayor worried crowds at car show could pose COVID setback

The mayor of Loma Linda said he’s worried a car show that brought thousands of mostly young people to a hospital parking lot last weekend may end up setting back San Bernardino County’s ability to get out from under state-mandated shutdowns amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

City officials are still looking into how the car show, which brought hundreds of luxury and sports cars to the parking structure of Loma Linda University Medical Center on Saturday, Oct. 3, along with as many as 3,000 eager onlookers, was able to descend on the area, apparently without anyone knowing in advance how big the event was going to be.

Videos show large crowds of people, some with masks but many others without, packing into the structure and gathering around the cars with cell phones out, recording.

While it’s unclear whether anyone may have been exposed to coronavirus at the outdoor event, Mayor Phill Dupper said he was disappointed so many people showed up, flouting the county’s social distancing and mask-wearing recommendations.

“It is unfortunate people don’t realize their actions can affect so many others,” Dupper said in an email. “Although I don’t believe the kids who showed up for the event meant any harm, they potentially put ALL of the citizens in San Bernardino County at a disadvantage.”

The county remains in the state’s purple tier, the highest status for coronavirus spread being tracked by the California Department of Public Health.

As of Thursday, San Bernardino County’s rate of positive coronavirus tests was still at more than 9.2 cases per 100,000. That number increased from the week before, meaning any wider reopening of the county won’t take place until Oct. 20.

The car show on Saturday was supposed to be small. Konrad Bolowich, Loma Linda’s assistant city manager, said the event was approved about three weeks ago.

In their application, the event organizers were planning a gathering of 15 to 20 cars. Attendees would have been required to socially distance and stay in their own cars when possible.

That’s not what happened.. At around 9 p.m. when the event was slated to begin, thousands of people began pouring into the parking lot adjacent to Loma Linda University’s medical school and hospital.

Among the organizers was the Loma Linda University Church and its youth ministry, which worked with car show promoter OriginKazoku to put on the show. Dupper said things quickly got out of hand.

“The best we can tell, unknowingly, the church put some things out on social media and it grew legs,” Dupper said. “Our belief is it was not their intention and when it started getting out of control, no one there knew what to do.”

Deputies ended up helping clear the area of attendees after several hours.

Dupper said the event never would have been approved if city officials knew how big it was going to get. The mayor and Bolowich said the city would be looking at its permit approvals process to figure out how to make sure it doesn’t happen again. Dupper also said at least one other event in the city is now being put on hold out of caution.

A spokesman for the county’s Department of Public Health also said the event should not have happened. Officials have not said yet whether they are aware of any exposures to coronavirus among event attendees.

In a statement, leaders at Loma Linda University Church said they “failed to anticipate that the event would grow so far beyond what we had planned.”

“We got it wrong, and we’re sorry,” they said. “We want to be a good neighbor, and we obviously failed this past Saturday evening.”

Source: Orange County Register

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