By Miriam Raftery
Updated with comments from Gloria Chadwick and Randy Lenac, members of the Grossmont Healthcare District board
August 27, 2020 (El Cajon) – El Cajon Mayor Bill Wells today announced on Facebook that he is convening a special meeting of the city council tomorrow at 3 p.m. to “discuss instructing our police to not enforce Covid-19 laws and or regulations… The state of California and the County of San Diego, of course, may continue to levy fines and criminal charges for violations, but I am proposing that the El Cajon police department not waste their valuable time enforcing mask, non-essential business and social distancing laws.”
The Mayor says he is calling for this action because “The people of El Cajon are suffering and it is highly unfair and nonsensical that big box stores, grocery stores, club stores and now even schools are open while nail salons, restaurants, churches, other businesses and organizations are shuttered….My people are suffering from not only financial ruin, but many are enduring severe depression, anxiety, isolation, and many other emotional, spiritual and sociological deprivations as a result of this stunning governmental overreach.”
Although recent council meetings have been held virtually via Zoom, the Mayor is further requiring that tomorrow afternoon’s meeting be held in person. If councilmembers are required to sit at the dais, that would not allow for social distancing between members, two of whom are seniors who could be at high risk if they were exposed to COVID-19 including Bob McClellan, who just got out of the hospital after undergoing brain surgery.
The public can view the meeting online at https://www.cityofelcajon.us/videostreaming . To submit comments on an item on this agenda, or a Public Comment, please visit the City's website at https://www.cityofelcajon.us/videostreaming. Comments will be accepted up to the conclusion or the vote of each item. View the agenda at https://elcajonca.new.swagit.com/events/6528.
The announcement drew sharp criticism from Gloria Chadwick, RN, a registered nurse and elected member of the Grossmont Healthcare District board. Though the district declined to take a position on the issue, Chadwick states, “I am not in favor of limiting protective measures to safeguard ourselves and fellow community members. Yes, the big companies may be open, at their peril and liability. Small establishments gain nothing if they must then close because some might test positive or they are sued as a result of going against all medical and State guidelines.”
She continues, “Some of these El Cajon businesses are in old small areas without good ventilation and no funds to make the needed changes. Challenges exist and smart businesses have already implemented changes to safeguard their clients and employees. Because a business is open it does not mean that it will draw traffic. It is a falsehood to believe that going back to normal will cure all ills.
Chadwick concludes, “This is a challenge for all but we are bright, intelligent people who can develop a game plan to stay safe and do business. Yes, it means work and rules. But the longterm costs to our society will take years to overcome each time members want their own personal gratification fixed and then society must bear the burden. No one complains anymore about car seat belts, no smoking in buildings or helmets. Why? Because those rules worked for all of us. The Labor Day weekend is near and we shall see two weeks later what statics reveal about our countries behavior and desire to be virus free.”
However Randy Lenac, also a member of the Grossmont Healthcare District board though not a medical professional, disagrees with Chadwick. He notes, "Mayor Wells is an elected leader of El Cajon and a healthcare professional. His political instincts are that the people of El Cajon are suffering from the “lockdown” in ways that can only be alleviated by local enforcement abatement. For that I applaud his courage, because he knows he will own the outcome. He is also correct that COVID enforcement action by the limited El Cajon police department is taking valuable time and resources away from other critical functions."
Lenac adds,"Balancing the possible further spread of COVID with the behavioral health needs of the community is also an important consideration. Behavioral health was the #1 unmet healthcare need in our community in the most recent community health needs assessment conducted by the County of San Diego in conjunction with the San Diego and Imperial County Hospital Association. Ignoring the long term adverse impacts of addiction, mental health, domestic violence, homelessness, and many other behavioral health issues is not an option, even in the middle of a pandemic. The Mayor also knows that El Cajon is serviced by Sharp Grossmont Hospital. Grossmont has been at the cutting edge of the COVID response and has created significant excess capacity to deal with any potential outbreaks in El Cajon."
He concludes,"This is the beauty of our democracy. Local elected leaders can work on solutions at the local level that may have a larger context for the other cities, county and state. I trust that Mayor Wells has weighed the political and health issues carefully in his decision and hope that El Cajon can be a positive example for other communities. We have to win the war against this pandemic and restore our pre-COVID lives."
El Cajon has had 1,813 cases of COVID-19. According to the San DIego County Dept. of Health and Human Services, El Cajon's rate is 1.717.5 cases for every 100,000 people in the population -- the fourth highest rate in San Diego County, after Spring Valley, Chula Vista and National City. The hospitalization rate is 148 people for every 100,000 and the death rate is 52 for every 100,000 people in El Cajon.