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By Miriam Raftery

May 6, 2020 (San Diego’s East County) – Supervisor Dianne Jacob will host a virtual town hall today at 4 p.m. along with El Cajon Mayor Bill Wells and Poway Mayor Steve Vaus on COVID-19 and the county’s latest measures to reopen businesses and recreation areas. Questions can be submitted in advance to Dianne.jacob@sdcounty.ca.gov.

To attend, click on your web browser or mobile device at https://bit.ly/May6TownHall or listen by phone by calling 415-466-7000. Enter the PIIN: 8155997 followed by #.   For American Sign Language access go to https://bit.ly/2z9FVL.  For those accessing with ASL who want to submit questions, go to https://gvpdkasj.bjn.pt .

Yesterday, Supervisors voted unanimously to adopt a framework to reopen businesses in a safe manner, with Supervisor Jacob sending a letter to Gov. Gavin Newsom ask for the county to have “total local control” over reopening decision.  It is unclear whether the Governor will grant such broad discretion. The County has provided a  template for businesses preparing to reopen to review, but it may be updated depending on direction from the state.

Businesses will need to complete, print and post the plan at their entrance.  They also must ensure proper sanitation, physical distancing and general business practices and communication.

The request comes on the same day as health officials announced 140 new cases and six new deaths from COVID-19, bringing the county totals to 4,160 cases and 150 deaths.

It is unclear how broad the county hopes to make its order.  Among hard-hit sectors in East County are tribes, where casinos, hotels and a shopping mall on tribal lands all remain closed under the statewide health order. Dine-in service at restaurants remains banned by the state, for now. Other businesses prohibited from opening as yet under the health directive include salons, spas, barber shops, gyms, shopping malls, movie theaters and other entertainment venues, among others.  The Governor has laid out a four-phase plan to reopen California and under his plan, the state is currently in the first stage of phase two.

Supervisors rejected a proposal by Nathan Fletcher to increase pay for essential county workers amid the pandemic, when the county budget is being stretched thin.

The County’s framework includes guidelines on employee and customer safety, sanitation, physical distancing, and general business practices and communications based on recommendations of the Responsible COVID-19 Economic Reopening Advisory Committee, which includes supervisors, San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer, small business owners and construction industry representative, but no medical professionals.

During yesterday’s virtual meeting of Supervisors, many residents voiced frustration over Governor Newsom’s order to shut non-essential businesses and over the county rule requiring masks in public within six feet of others. The Governor’s guidelines are expected to be announced tomorrow. 

The Governor earlier this week announced that starting Friday, some but not all nonessential businesses such as florists, book stores, clothing stores, sporting goods shops and retail stores not in malls can reopen for curbside service, with social distancing to protect employees and other protective measures.

But the County seeks to go further, as economic pressures increase to reopen despite potential health risks. Supervisor Desmond, who sponsored the reopening measure locally along with Supervisor Kristin Gaspar, has said he wants to help farmers, restaurants, salons, kennels, manufacturers and the medical industry.

San Diego East County Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Rick Wilson sent a letter yesterday to Supervisors, the Governor and East County political leaders encouraging them to restart the economy as quickly as possible in “days not weeks – prior to an economic meltdown that will have far-reaching implications for years into the future.” Despite a potential increases in spread of COVID-19 he states, “The time has come to place highest emphasis on reopening the economy.”

Some small business owners have not received SBA loans or other aid, while some laid-off workers are still waiting on unemployment.

But Natasha Martin, an infectious disease economic modeler and professor at U.C. San Diego, told Supervisors during yesterday’s meeting that the county’s swift action to promote social distancing likely saved lives.  If the disease had been left unchecked and health orders not put in place, she estimated that over 12,790 San Diego County residents would have died of COVID-19 to date.