By Miriam Raftery
Photo,left: Major's Diner in Pine Valley, a long-time roadside stop for travelers also popular with local residents, could not survive another shut down in winter weather, the owner says.
November 13, 2020 (San Diego’s East County) – Several East County business owners and at least one megachurch have announced intentions to defy a new state mandate to shut down indoor services starting Saturday. In addition, El Cajon Mayor Bill Wells says police in his city won’t prioritize enforcement of businesses that remain open despite public health orders.
Places of worship, gyms, restaurants and movie theaters are ordered to stop indoor operations under state mandates due to high rates of COVID-19 that have moved San Diego County into the purple tier. Retailers are supposed to cut service to 25% capacity and any schools not yet reopened are prohibited from doing so.
Restaurants and bars have been tied to 9.2% of all COVID cases in San Diego County from June 6 through November 7, or 3,666 cases, according to newly released county health data. Even with many modifications, the most recent two weeks of data from October 25 to November 7 show 389 cases tied to restaurants and bars, or 10.01% of total new cases—more than any other specific business category.
Yet some restaurant owners say they’re done with shutdowns and would be unable to survive another shutdown as winter approaches.
Larry McNamer, owner of Major’s Diner in Pine Valley, told 10News, “We can’t do any more going backward.” With temperatures down to 30 degrees in the mountain community, McNamer says it’s impossible to survive by relying on outdoor dining.
KUSI interviewed the owners of Meat Monsters Grill in Ramona and Fat Anthony’s Delicatessen in Julian, both mountain towns with cold weather. Both said they have decided to stay open in defiance of Governor Gavin Newsom’s orders and can’t afford another closure.
Places of worship have accounted for 692 cases in San Diego from June 5 through November 7, or 1.7% of all cases locally. In the most recent two weeks, churches and other houses of worship have been tied to 118 cases, or 3.1% of all new COVID cases in our region. Yet some churches have already been defying orders requiring wearing masks, even when parishioners are singing, which has been shown to spread the virus further than six feet.
Despite those facts, Skyline Church in La Mesa has posted its response to the purple tier restrictions on its website. “We will continue to have indoor seat as well as outdoor seating for those who may be more comfortable outside,” the site states, adding that online services are also available.
“Public health entails the spiritual health of the community, the social health of the community, and the mental health of the community” as well as physical health, Skyline’s post contends, noting that drug and alcohol abuse, domestic abuse and divorces increased during lockdowns due to the pandemic.
Skyline’s site says it’s been open since June with zero outbreaks and questions why strip clubs, casinos and liquor stores can remain open while churches can’t. (The county can’t shut down casinos, which are on tribal land.)
El Cajon’s Mayor Wells told 10 News that he’s concerned about business owners who say they need to feed their families and pay their mortgages. He said that El Cajon Police have made enforcing shutdown orders a low priority, but adds “We reserve the right to do some enforcement” presumably such as for a flagrant violation with crowding and no masks.
“If you don’t like the fact that there’s a business open, don’t go in there,” Wells told 10 News. As for the risk to lives that the coronavirus poses not only for shop patrons and employees, but anyone they come in contact with, Wells noted that diseases have occurred through human history and “diseases runs its course. Everyone gets exposed, they develop antibodies and they move on. As far as I know we’ve never shut down an entire economy.”
That is not entirely accurate, however. During the 1918 Spanish influenza pandemic, many cities in the U.S. banned public gatherings and ordered shutdowns of schools, theaters, saloons, amusement parks, churches and other places in an attempt to slow spread of the virus which ultimately killed 675,000 Americans, though the curve was flattened faster in some cities that ordered lockdowns and spread farther in cities that allowed major gatherings such as parades celebrating the end of World War I. Then as now, some pushed back against shutdowns and mask-wearing mandates, leading to rollbacks in some places.
To date, COVID-19 has infected over 10.6 million Americans and killed over 243,000 according to the CDC COVID tracker site, an undeniably severe pandemic that has caused more deaths than most U.S. wars combined.
Also undeniable is the negative impact of COVID-19 on the economy, however. According to a study released by the San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG), COVID-19 has caused a loss of $12.4 billion to San Diego County’s gross regional product, $4.8 billion in estimated lost wages during the first six months of the pandemic, and caused unemployment of 176,000 local workers.
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.
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