BUSINESS OWNERS, HEALTHCARE AND POLITICAL LEADERS SHARE VIEWS ON NEW COVID-19 SHUTDOWNS

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By Miriam Raftery

Photo: Prete-a-Porter Salon & Spa in La Mesa moved outside during the last shutdown, but this time, salons are ordered to close completely. 

December 6, 2020 (San Diego’s East County) – Healthcare leaders, business owners and public officials are offering mixed reactions to the state’s latest stay-home order and business shutdowns prompted by Southern California dropping below 15% ICU bed availability. 

Starting Monday, restaurants are limited to only  take-out or delivery, retailers must cut capacity to 20% amid the holiday shopping season, and some businesses must close down completely, such as salons and wineries, for at least the next three weeks.

For some businesses, this could be the last straw, with no federal relief for months. Shutdowns also bring hardships for employees after a year in which many have already endured unemployment and extended unemployment benefits are also expiring. 

Here are local reactions to the latest shutdown orders for our region.

Healthcare

Christopher Howard, president and CEO of Sharp Healthcare, which operates seven hospitals in San Diego County including Sharp Grossmont Hospital in East County, issued a statement illustrating the severity of the healthcare crisis.  

“We have 184 adult ICU beds in action today,” he told KPBS four days ago. “We have 25 beds left—in the midst of what we believe over the next 30 days will be the most monumental surge of this virus that we have experienced to date. Everything we are experiencing now is what we feared we would experience back in May.”

On Dec. 3, a whopping 2,039 new cases were reported in San Diego County –nearly seven times higher than just a few weeks earlier. The case rate has been climbing steadily, along with hospitalizations and ICU occupancy rates.

Elected Officials

But some feel the state-mandated action is unfair and goes too far.  Supervisor Jim Desmond calls the regional approach “absurd” given that at the time of the order, San Diego had 23% of ICU beds available, well above the 15% threshold, but San Diego is lumped into a region that includes multiple counties, some of which have far worse rates. 

Desmond also questions the science. “The State does not and cannot demonstrate how playgrounds, or barber shops, or fitness centers have caused significant spread,” he contends. “But they are shutting them down anyway, putting people out of work.”  He believes the situation “does not warrant taking away people’s lives, proper education and livelihoods.”  That said, he acknowledges, “Some action is warranted because cases, hospitalizations, and ICU bed use is increasing…We need to push for the best practices—social distancing, mas wearing, working from home as much as possible and we need to identify specific causes of spread and address them.”

San Diego Mayor-Elect Todd Gloria says he recognizes the enormous impacts the order will have. But he urges, “I ask San Diegans to follow all public health guidelines and to have hope. With vaccines soon becoming available, the end of the pandemic is in sight.”

Business owners

Roz and Dan Oserin, owners of Prete-a-Porter Salon and Spa in La Mesa, said in an email to customers following the closure order, “While it is difficult for small businesses, it seems very necessary in order to flatten the daily increase in positive cases.”  They urged customers to order Aveda Holiday Gift Boxes of personal care products at a discount.

The owner of Therapie Day Spa in La Mesa also took a pragmatic approach. “Perhaps the gift of this season is the opportunity to slow down and take a breath as we appreciate all we have. Perhaps this our chance to really be present with our families in a way we haven’t had the chance to before…This is our chance to be TRULY present for a holiday season, to rejoice in the small moments of connection and love that create the fabric of our existence.”  The spa owner encouraged customers to consider buying gift certificates online or products from their boutique, which will remain open.

Cynthia Ann Gomez, co-owner of Hacienda Casa Blanca restaurant in El Cajon, had invested in creating an attractive outdoor dining area before the shutdown order. But she promptly posted new ideas on Facebook to keep customers.  “Creative minds never give up, only adjust,” she wrote. “Hacienda Casa Blanca Drive Thru might be a thing.”  A customer chimed in, “Or drive in dining. Servers on roller skates!”

But Jimmie’s Restaurant in Santee posted its intent to defy the state and county orders. “We will be open for indoor and outdoor dining. We are exercising our constitutional rights,” the restaurant’s Facebook page proclaimed.

Opening a new restaurant is always risky – but imagine doing so amid a pandemic. The Mr. Birra Mexican Restaurant in Santee had its grand opening on Dec. 4, only three days before the new shutdown, but reports selling out of food on day one. Now the owner is hoping his newfound customers will return to take meals home. On Facebook, the owner announced he’ll be closed Monday and Tuesday, then reopening for take-out food. He posted, “Thank you everyone for supporting our business”

The Julian Chamber of Commerce, whose member visitors thrive on tourism, reached out to the public on  its Facebook page after the shutdown order: “Together, we can overcome. We are with you. We value you. Thank you for your generous support of our community.”

Miriam Raftery, editor and founder of East County Magazine, has over 35 years of journalism experience. She has won more than 350 journalism awards from the Society of Professional Journalists, San Diego Press Club, and the American Society of Journalists & Authors. Her honors include the Sol Price Award for responsible journalism and three James Julian awards for public interest reporting from SPJ’s San Diego chapter. She has received top honors for investigative journalism, multicultural reporting, coverage of immigrant and refugee issues, politics, breaking news and more. Thousands of her articles have appeared in national and regional publications.

East County Magazine gratefully acknowledges the Facebook Journalism Project for its COVID-19 Relief Fund grant to support our local news reporting including impacts on vulnerable communities during the COVID-19 pandemic. Learn more: #FacebookJournalismProject and https://www.facebook.com/fbjournalismproject/.

You can donate to support our local journalism efforts during the pandemic at https://www.EastCountyMedia.org/donate.