County OKs in-person dining, retail; asks governor to approve pilot program

County Supervisor Nathan Fletcher appears virtually at a meeting of the San Diego County Board of Supervisors, seen here on the photographer's computer screen, on May 19, 2020 in San Diego, California.
(Sam Hodgson / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

The new rules will not go into immediate effect; pilot would allow some Stage 3 activities, including salons and gyms


With unemployment hitting nearly 25 percent and weekly protests decrying the state stay-at-home order, California’s second-most-populous county is pushing to reopen quicker.

On Tuesday, San Diego County supervisors gave the go-ahead for the county to accelerate its progression in Stage 2 of reopening, which would allow retail shopping and restaurants to cater to in-person patrons while abiding by social-distancing guidelines to stem the spread of the novel coronavirus.

However, those changes will not go into immediate effect as the Stage 2 plan needs state approval, something supervisors and county staff indicated they expect will be provided.

Additionally, the board voted 4-1 Tuesday to make a request to the governor to launch a pilot program for reopening some Stage 3 activities in the county, as well, including some youth sports and clubs, outdoor religious services, research labs, and therapeutic and peer support groups of less than 10 individuals.

The pilot, if approved by Gov. Gavin Newsom, would also allow salons and fitness facilities in San Diego County to operate at 25 percent capacity by appointment only, as well as open up pools at HOA/Condominium/Apartment complexes at 25 percent capacity.

Supervisor Nathan Fletcher was the lone supervisor to vote against pursuing the pilot program, saying that since the county hadn’t yet fully implemented Stage 2, it wasn’t time to move toward Stage 3.

The county was eligible to advance further into Stage 2 of California’s Resiliency Roadmap because it hit several of the revised reopening criteria laid out by the governor including experiencing a stabilization of new COVID-19 cases and having appropriate testing and hospital capacity. For example, the new rules require counties to have no more than 8 percent of tests conducted coming back positive, a threshold San Diego County is meeting with a rolling two-week average of positive tests under 5 percent.

As of Monday, San Diego County had seen nearly 6,026 COVID cases, which has led to 1,136 residents being hospitalized and 222 residents dying.

“Based on the six readiness criteria, variance criteria, and the county’s data, I can confidently say that San Diego County is ready to move toward the accelerated stage 2 and begin to reopen,“ said Wilma Wooten, the county’s public health officer.

Along with gradually moving toward reopening certain businesses, county supervisors also took other economic actions Tuesday related to COVID.

County supervisors agreed Tuesday to use $25 million of the $334 million in federal funds it received under the CARES Act to support 17 of the region’s cities that were too small to qualify for direct federal funds.

Cities and counties with fewer than 500,000 people did not receive CARES Act coronavirus relief funding, which municipalities can use to address certain COVID-19 related expenses such as those associated with law enforcement, economic support initiatives, telework enhancements, infrastructure, sanitation compliance, and facility enhancements.

The funds cannot be used to compensate for lost revenue.

Although supervisors came into the meeting with two different CARES Act funding proposals to consider, the board ultimately decided to go with making $25 million in CARES Act funds available to cities because county supervisors anticipate those cities will receive additional funds from the state.

In his May budget revision last week, the governor set aside $450 million to be shared by cities that did not receive direct payments from the federal government. County staff project that about $25 million of those funds will go to the cities in San Diego County.

“Given the financial impact the pandemic has already shown, our safety net needs will be significant,” said Supervisor Kristin Gaspar, who co-authored the funding proposal with Supervisor Greg Cox. “Instead of waiting for our citizens to fail we need to invest in our San Diego families and municipal governments.”

Supervisors also settled on broader framework Tuesday for how to allocate the county’s CARES Act dollars.

In a 4-1 vote, with Supervisor Jim Desmond dissenting, the board adopted a spending framework that allocated $175 million for the county’s response and recovery; $100 million for testing, tracing and treatment of COVID-19; $17 million for economic stimulus in the region; $15 million for behavioral health telehealth; and $2 million for Child Welfare Services’ expanded outreach.

The framework also mentions $5 million in childcare for essential workers, which the board already approved earlier this month.

“We know coronavirus is not only a debilitating disease, it has an impact on our community that is much greater than just the public health aspect,” said Fletcher, who introduced the framework alongside Supervisor Dianne Jacob.

“It put a tremendous strain on our local economy, it has created, stress, anxiety and isolation in our community, and it’s disrupting the safe environment our educational institutions provide children. We must fully balance the use of our limited resources in the most appropriate manner moving forward.”

The Board of Supervisors will next meet Wednesday at 9 a.m. Although residents are not allowed to attend in person, they can watch the meeting online and offer input on agenda items in writing through the county’s website or by teleconference during the meeting.