As the coronavirus pandemic rages on, no one seems immune to the virus. West Hollywood Mayor John D’Amico is one of those people who is not immune, having tested positive for the COVID-19 virus on March 18. He was one of the first elected officials in the United States to go public with his test results.
D’Amico has been in self-quarantine since he first began feeling ill on March 16. The good news is he’s taking care of himself and appears to be on the mend. Nonetheless, he’s still taking precautions, washing his hands regularly, getting plenty of rest, and still maintaining his quarantine.
D’Amico chatted with WEHOville via telephone recently about his experience. He talked about the symptoms he had, his reaction to getting the test results, how he’s handling his duties as mayor, the high number of West Hollywood who have tested positive and more.
Ever mindful of physical fitness while also maintaining his quarantine, D’Amico marched up and down his driveway as he talked with WEHOville, logging in 2.78 miles by the end of an hour-long phone chat.
“I’m feeling just fine,” reported the 56-year-old D’Amico said. “I don’t have any symptoms. I haven’t for days.”
Los Angeles County health officials say people who have tested positive can leave quarantine once they’ve been symptom free and fever free (without the aid of any fever-reducing medications) for 72 hours. D’Amico has more than passed that time, but nonetheless reported he’s not rushing out of the house.
“I’m not in any hurry to go out,” said D’Amico who was first elected to the City Council in 2011. “There’s nowhere to go anyway. It’s not like I’m going to the movies. I don’t need to be out in the world just to be out in the world. I don’t need to go to the grocery store, I don’t need to go to the pharmacy.”
However, he did take his dogs for a short walk in his Tri-West neighborhood on Sunday afternoon, his first and only venture out so far. For the past two weeks while he’s been in quarantine, he’s marched the two dogs up and down his driveway while he got some exercise in, so they were anxious to go beyond the boundaries of their yard.
“It was good to have that change of scenery,” said D’Amico. “It had been 15 days since I left my house. It’s remarkable how quiet it is out in the world.”
D’Amico considers himself lucky in that his symptoms were mild, saying, “It’s very possible that if I didn’t know about [COVID-19], I would have thought I got this year’s version of the flu.”
He does urge all residents to abide by the safer-at-home restrictions that Los Angeles County has in place, reminding that those guidelines may be uncomfortable, but are meant to keep people alive and healthy.
“I would suggest you do all you can to limit your exposure. Wash your hands. Keep to yourself,” said D’Amico, a Detroit native who first came to Southern California in 1981 to attend college at California Institute of the Arts in Santa Clarita. “There’s a lot more days and weeks ahead of this and we need to make sure people who are healthy stay healthy and people who are sick get better. And that’s the best outcome we can hope for.”
D’Amico started feeling bad on the morning of March 16. He had a cough and was achy and called in sick to work that day. By about 4 p.m., he was running a slight fever and decided to participate in that night’s City Council meeting telephonically rather than in person. Even though he was on the phone, he’s glad he got to be a part of that historic meeting, one where the city declared a state of emergency due to the coronavirus, implementing several emergency measures in the process.
The next day, March 17, he was feeling worse. His fever was higher. He was coughing and aching more. And he had a headache. He contacted his doctor who told him to come in for a coronavirus test. By 10:30 a.m., he was being tested in the parking lots of his doctor’s office. He spent much of the rest of the day researching the coronavirus on the internet so he would be as educated as possible should that test result come back positive.
And it did come back positive. On March 18 at approximately 12:30 p.m., his doctor called with the results, telling him to continue to isolate and monitor his symptoms. His fever had already broken, but at that point, they didn’t know if the fever might come back. His doctor told him to have a “low threshold” for going to the hospital if he had any difficulty breathing. However, the doctor advised calling the hospital first to let them know he was positive and to follow its instruction for coming in.
In the time since then, he’s been in touch with his doctor’s office twice daily, giving them updates. He still has some chest congestion, which typically takes longer to clear up. At the same time, he suggested the lingering congestion could be related to the seasonal allergies from which he routinely suffers at this time of year.
While he’s not dismissing the severity of COVID-19, he also knows that being healthy overall helped him recover quickly.
“I got this sense that there was a pretty good chance because I was so healthy, my outcome would be pretty good. I exercise a lot. I have good lung capacity. I never really got worried,” said D’Amico, who is HIV positive. “What I realized is that my doctor and my medical insurance was about as good as it could possibly be. I feel incredibly fortunate to have that and took advantage of it, and it worked out. I guess the short answer is that it never occurred to me to be worried about [having COVID-19]. It occurred to me to pay attention and do what my doctor says and to read as much as I can about it, but if and until it got serious, there was no reason to worry about it being serious.”
Informing Colleagues and the World
Surprisingly, L.A. County health officials did not ask him to provide them a list of all the people with whom he had come in contact. However, he made such a list for himself – friends, work colleagues, city colleagues, neighbors. On March 18, shortly after getting his positive result, D’Amico began contacting those people.
“I sent some very uncomfortable emails, but I sent them,” he recalled. “By 6:15 that day, everyone I had come in contact with had heard, either from my email or through a colleague of mine. I was very happy that I contacted people before they heard it from a third party. It was super important to me to do that.”
One of the first people he contacted was Paul Arevalo, the City Manager of West Hollywood. The day before, he’d informed Arevalo that he’d taken the test, so his positive test result didn’t come as a complete surprise. Arevalo quickly evacuated City Hall and arranged to have the building disinfected as a precaution. Since that time, most city employees have been working from home, something they had already been scheduled to begin doing on Thursday, March 19 as a coronavirus precaution.
D’Amico told WEHOville he had not been in the City Hall building for two weeks before receiving his positive test result. D’Amico and the other four West Hollywood City Council members all have day jobs and only work part time as Council members. It is not unusual for the Council members to only go into City Hall a few times a month as they conduct much of their city business via phone or email.
The only city employee he came in contact with in the two weeks prior to his test result was Arevalo. The two have dinner together once a month, and their most recent dinner was on March 11 at Connie and Teds.
Because he is an elected official, the city was quick to send out a press release about his status. That release was simple and to the point, reading in part, “The City of West Hollywood has been notified that one of its West Hollywood City Hall family members has tested positive for COVID-19. West Hollywood Mayor John D’Amico received word this afternoon from his healthcare provider that his COVID-19 test came back positive and he immediately informed West Hollywood City Manager Paul Arevalo.”
D’Amico participated in writing that press release, which was sent out to the media about 6 p.m. that day. Within minutes, it made headlines across the nation. Although the press release requested privacy, D’Amico talked to several reporters that night, including a Facetime interview with KNBC-Channel 4’s Robert Kovacik who led that night’s 11 p.m. newscast with the interview.
As for his work at UCLA (he’s a principle project manager overseeing design and construction of new buildings on campus), he also quickly notified the UCLA human resources department. He said the HR department was puzzled that he was about sending out the press release about his test result, apparently not understanding that for the sake of transparency, it is important for an elected official to notify the public.
Most of the people in his UCLA offices had already begun working from home on March 17 as a coronavirus precaution, but nonetheless those offices were disinfected upon word of his test result.
D’Amico said that throughout his quarantine time, he’s been doing his work at home.
“I’ve worked some every day,” he said. “I didn’t feel bad enough not to do some work.”
Where He Picked up the Virus
D’Amico isn’t sure where or how he got the virus but suspects he might have picked it up from his husband, Keith Rand, a psychologist who had attended a conference in New York City from Feb. 29 to March 8. Several people at that conference later tested positive.
Despite rumors going around town that Rand also got sick, D’Amico reported Rand is well. “Keith is fine. He’s doing good,” he said. D’Amico and Rand have been partnered since 1992, married since 2008.
Despite the couple being quarantined, they have been well stocked with food. Friends and neighbors have brought them groceries and also dropped off some care packages of food, including some “amazing” clam chowder, which neighbor James Litz made.
D’Amico did order a few other grocery items they needed from Ralphs on March 21. As many other WeHoans have discovered, those grocery deliveries to the house take a long time. Ralphs finally delivered their groceries on March 26, proving that even the mayor doesn’t get special treatment during this safer-at-home period.
WeHo’s High Positive Numbers
According to figures released by the county Public Health Department, West Hollywood has one of the highest concentrations of positive COVID-19 test results in Los Angeles County. As of Saturday, March 28, there are 50 people in West Hollywood who have tested positive, meaning that one out of every 877 people in the city have the coronavirus.
Meanwhile, the adjacent Melrose neighborhood in Los Angeles, immediately south of the eastern portion of West Hollywood, has 56 cases, which also translates to one out of every 877 people.
Those numbers are expected to rise steadily as more people get tested.
The numbers disturb D’Amico greatly, but he prefers not to speculate on why they are so high. He acknowledges that the city’s high density of people may be a factor but says until the county provides a demographic breakdown of those people who have tested positive, speculation is useless.
He believes it is best the county does not release those demographics at this point so as to avoid potential persecution or discrimination against a particular class or group of people who may be infected.
“The little bit that I know about surveillance technique is that until there is a critical mass of cases, you don’t identify the demographics of the people involved for their protection.”
Handling City Business
The Los Angeles County Public Health Department issued its order closing all restaurants, bars, gyms, entertainment venues and movie theaters throughout the county on March 16, matching the one Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti issued for the City of Los Angeles the night before.
Prior to those orders being issued, many residents contacted D’Amico regarding whether the City of West Hollywood should take such an action. Some urged closing the restaurants, others urged keeping them open; some said close the gyms, others said leave the gyms open, etc.
“I tried to explain that even though I am currently the mayor, that was not my decision,” he said. “I have tried to be clear that [in West Hollywood] we are an open government, and we make decisions as a body.”
However, the City Council never had to make that decision as the county Public Health Department’s closure order covers all of Los Angeles County including West Hollywood. And three days later, on March 19, the safer-at-home order, one step short of a countywide quarantine, was issued.
D’Amico receives Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti’s daily updates for mayors throughout Los Angeles County, but he passes those along to City Manager Paul Arevalo, preferring to let City Hall staff take the lead on things regarding the coronavirus.
His reasoning for that is twofold. First, West Hollywood City Hall has highly trained staffers who are skilled at handling emergency situations like this. Secondly, he knows this coronavirus crisis will last for months and his time as mayor will end in mid-May. In West Hollywood, the position of mayor rotates yearly among the five City Council members and the current mayor pro tem, Lindsey Horvath, will be sworn in as the new mayor on May 18.
“At every point, I want there to be consistency of messaging,” D’Amico said. “It’s more important to me that the city have consistent messaging and participation than I be seen as the guy with all the knowledge.”
He prefers not to make any predictions about when the coronavirus emergency will end or how it will affect West Hollywood.
“I know that the city will be changed, and given what I know about West Hollywood, it will [ultimately] be changed for the better,” D’Amico said. “We will figure out ways to make living here make sense during this time.”
During the March 16 City Council meeting where the city declared a state of emergency, City Manager Paul Arevalo predicated that the situation will get worse before it gets better, also noting that it is a lot easier to shut down an economy than it is to restart it.
D’Amico believes that when the crisis lessens, businesses will need help with restarting. He welcomes input from residents and businesses as to how best accomplish that.
“We want to know how we can help your business survive this time,” he said. “People in West Hollywood are super creative. Let’s hope they come up with things the City Council can’t think of and they let us know how we can help them to get that to happen.”