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S.D. County OKs framework to reopen businesses during pandemic

 

Last updated 5/5/2020 at 5:20pm



SAN DIEGO (CNS) - County supervisors today unanimously voted to adopt a framework to reopen businesses in a safe manner during the coronavirus pandemic, as health officials announced 140 new cases of COVID-19 and six additional deaths, raising the county's totals to 4,160 cases and 150 deaths.

The six deaths were three women and three men, ranging in age from 62 to 95, according to officials with San Diego Health Services.

As part of the framework plan, the county will send a letter to Gov. Gavin Newsom proposed by Supervisor Dianne Jacob requesting "total local control'' on COVID-19 decisions.

The framework also offers guidelines on employee and customer safety, sanitation, physical distancing, and general business practices and communications. Recommendations were based on input from the Responsible Covid- 19 Economic Reopening Advisory Group, which includes county supervisors, San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer, small business owners and construction industry associations.

Faulconer said the group is bipartisan, bi-national and features a diverse makeup. He also thanked business groups and organizations "who jumped in with both feet'' to offer input.

"We are not out of the woods yet, but what we are doing in San Diego is working,'' the mayor added.

Board Chairman Greg Cox said it has not been easy for businesses to adapt, but the framework allows them to reopen smoothly and safely.

During the meeting, more than a few residents expressed their frustrations with Newsom's orders shuttering non-essential businesses, along with the county's rule requiring residents to wear masks.

Timothy Ryan, an attorney based in Coronado, said the notion that a public official can determine whether a business is essential is offensive. "This shutdown is no longer about public health, but politics,'' he added.

Others told board members they have taken all the necessary steps to ensure their businesses are safe for customers.

After the vote, Supervisor Nathan Fletcher said it's important to "start the difficult work of rebuilding our economy, but it is vital that it be done right.''

Supervisor Jim Desmond said the county should consider an ombudsman to help answer questions about the business guidelines.

Tuesday's meeting was the fourth held via teleconference since the pandemic began, with supervisors voting remotely.

Guidelines for businesses was just one of several COVID-19 related actions the board tackled during its regular meeting.

Supervisors also unanimously approved $5 million emergency childcare vouchers available to essential frontline workers and families. The money will come from the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act.

Jacob made an amendment to make the funds contingent on the city of San Diego also contributing $5 million from its CARES Act funding, for a total of $10 million.

Fletcher said the vouchers will "not only alleviate a financial burden but will increase access to childcare and allow them to focus on

performing their essential services. We are hopeful the city of San Diego will join us and contribute.''

The board also unanimously approved a six-month waiver of fees for inspections associated with environmental health, agriculture weights and measures, plan checks for tenant improvements, and air pollution control permit renewals.

Desmond -- who recently sponsored the proposal along with Supervisor Kristin Gaspar -- said the waiver will help local farmers, restaurants, salons, kennels, manufacturers and the medical industry. Gaspar said the action offers "some level of certainty. These recommendations are an investment.''

Another COVID-19 proposal by Fletcher to offer hazard pay to essential county workers died for lack of a second motion.

Cox said that considering the county's long-term expenses in responding to the coronavirus, it was unwise to approve hazard pay.

Desmond said frontline employees are "doing God' work,'' but the county needs to open up its economy for the 25 percent of residents who aren't getting a paycheck at all.

"In the long run, they're the ones paying your salaries,'' he added.

Fletcher later said he was disappointed by the board's lack of support.

"Available federal funds could be utilized for this simple step to show respect and appreciation for county employees who are putting their lives at risk to serve our community,'' he said.

Fletcher said three state-run testing sites dealt with significant logistical and staffing issues Monday but successfully completed hundreds of coronavirus tests Tuesday, when the county and its health partners completed 2,306 tests, raising the cumulative tests to 63,477.

The 140 new positive cases represent 6% of Tuesday's total tests. Currently, 354 COVID-19 patients are in the hospital, 135 of whom are in intensive care.

Of positive-testing COVID-19 patients, 20.8% have been hospitalized, 6.6% have been treated in intensive care and 3.6% have died, officials said.

Natasha Martin, a UC San Diego professor and infectious disease economic modeler, told the board Tuesday that the county's swift actions to promote social distancing may have saved thousands of lives, predicting that -- were the disease left unchecked and health orders not put in place -- more than 12,790 people in San Diego would have died of COVID-19 by May 5.

 

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