California’s 2nd-Largest County to Seek Faster Reopening
SAN DIEGO — California’s second-largest county wants to run through the door opened by Gov. Gavin Newsom to allow faster reopening of the state’s economy and might offer itself as a test of whether to go even farther.
San Diego County supervisors were scheduled to vote Tuesday on a detailed proposal for moving deeper into phase two of Newsom’s four-stage reopening, which would include allowing diners in restaurants.
Some restaurants could reopen Wednesday “if we get the green light” from the governor, Supervisor Dianne Jacob said.
Supervisors also will discuss seeking permission to start a pilot program that “inches” into phase three, including reopening barbershops and hair salons, Jacob said.
A few rural Northern California counties with few coronavirus cases have defied Newsom’s March stay-at-home order and reopened salons and restaurants but San Diego County officials say they are confident they can become the first county to receive state permission for phase three.
“Everything that we are doing in San Diego County has been based on data, has been based on health,” San Diego Mayor Kevin L. Faulconer said.
Newsom has begun relaxing restrictions enacted under his mid-March stay-at-home order that shuttered all but essential businesses to slow the spread of the coronavirus. With millions of people out of work, pressure to reopen has been building but the state has been cautious, afraid that moving too quickly could spark a second COVID-19 outbreak that could prove even more devastating to the economy.
Guidelines laid out just over a week ago to allow counties to move more quickly than the state in reopening still would have prevented most large counties from further rolling back business closures. On Monday, Newsom further eased guidelines for exceptions, citing an overall statewide decline in hospitalizations in the last two weeks, the distribution of more protective gear for healthcare workers and the state’s ability to test more people for the virus.
A Requirement That a County Can’t Have Any New Virus-Related Deaths in a Two-Week Period Was Dropped
He issued new guidelines for reopening, including that a county can’t see more than a 5% increase per week in hospitalizations.
A requirement that a county can’t have any new virus-related deaths in a two-week period was dropped. Instead, the criteria concentrate on the number of cases — no more than 25 per 100,000 residents — and other factors. Deaths tend to happen three to four weeks after infections and “don’t reflect the current situation on the ground,” said Kate Folmar of the California Health and Human Services Agency.
Remaining in place were criteria on hospital capacity to deal with a virus surge along with ability to test for COVID-19 infections and to contact everyone who might be infected by each person who tests positive.
“The overall goal here, in part, is to transfer the responsibility and ownership of the pace and order of reopening back to county health officials, who are best poised to know the local dynamics of disease movement,” Folmar said.
Newsom didn’t identify the five counties he expected wouldn’t meet the criteria for accelerating business reopening, but he pointed to Los Angeles, Kings and Tulare County as those facing challenges. He cited Tulare due to a number of cases at nursing homes and Kings due to cases at meat packing plants.
Twenty-four counties in mostly rural Northern California already won approval under the old guidance.
San Bernardino County Supervisor Curt Hagman said he believes that county of more than 2 million is ready.
“I believe we will be one of those counties that can do more now,” he said. “It’s not like everything is open nor does it mean we’re out of the woods because we’re not.”
San Diego Was Among Large Counties, Particularly in Southern California, That Said the Earlier Criteria Were Too Restrictive
Most counties already have said they are considering or are ready to reopen businesses faster. Some exceptions are in the San Francisco Bay Area and Los Angeles County.
San Diego County, with about 3.3 million people, has had about 6,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases and more than 200 deaths. That compares to Los Angeles County, with three times the population but about 8 1/2 times as many deaths.
San Diego was among large counties, particularly in Southern California, that said the earlier criteria were too restrictive. Officials said they were confident they could accelerate the reopening safely, with restaurants enforcing social distancing and other measures to prevent the spread of the virus.
“It’s done with one overarching goal: how do we ensure we protect our employees and the safety of our customers? That’s what every restaurant has to do,” San Diego’s mayor said.
Still at least weeks away are state permission for reopening places and events that draw large crowds, such as movie theaters, sports arenas and church services.
Newsom on Monday offered the possibility of pro sports returning — without fans — by early June.
“Bottom line is: People can go at their own pace, and we are empowering our local health directors and county officials that understand their local communities and conditions,” Newsom said. “We’re going to start seeing a lot more activity, let’s just make sure we do it thoughtfully and very, very strategically.”
For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. But for some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death.