By Miriam Raftery
Photo: Creative Commons via Bing
January 25, 2021 (San Diego) – At a press conference this afternoon, San Diego County leaders announced changes to allow some businesses to reopen after the state lifted a regional stay-home order. The change comes due to a four-week regional projection that ICU capacity will rise above 15%. Our County is now back in the purple tier, but with some modifications.
A key change is the live entertainment is now allowed at restaurants, which can reopen for outdoor dining, with social distancing. Performers must be 12 feet from diners and from other performers. Wineries, bars, and distilleries that serve food can operate under the same rules as restaurants, though entities that serve alcohol only must stay closed. Restaurants can operate from 5 a.m. to 10 p.m. for food service, with diners allowed up to 11 p.m. to finish. Takeout and delivery can be 24 hours.
Hair and nail salons, barber shops, tattoo parlors and massage businesses can reopen for indoor service, following COVID-safe protocols.
Gatherings of three households or less are allowed outdoors, with masks.
Non-contact youth sports competitions can resume, such as track and field, golf, tennis and swimming. Other youth sports can resume practicing if there is no direct contact, such as batting or fielding practice for baseball teams, but no competitions.
Grocery stores can operate at 50% occupancy, retail at 25%, and hotels can reopen to the public. Certain other businesses, such as museums and drive-in theaters, can resume outdoor operations. Worship services can be held outdoors – with masks and social distancing.
“We can take a measure of pride in knowing that we’ve beaten back the most severe surge,” says Nathan Fletcher, chair of the County Board of Supervisors. Cases have dropped from over 4,000 daily to between 1,000 and 2,000 daily for most days in the past week.
But San Diego still has a long way to go to drop into the red tier, which would allow much broader reopening of businesses, a goal that only be met if people avoid mass gatherings and continue to wear masks, wash hands, socially distance, and avoid risky behaviors.
Although the post-holiday surge has passed, Dr. Wilma Wooten, the county’s public health officer, cautions, “There are other things looming on the horizon, and that’s the new strains” which spread more rapidly than the original strain of COVID-19.
The most promising factor is the continued rollout of vaccines, which are now available to people age 65 and up, as well as healthcare workers. After that, the next groups to be vaccinated will be front-line workers in childcare and education, first responders, and workers in food and agriculture. Next will likely be those age 50-64, Dr. Wooten said.
Some glitches in the sign-up process have been improved, Fletcher said, after initial long waits and hassles. In addition to super-sites at Petco Park and Chula Vista, several other “pod” sites are now available across the County. Find a list of locations here: https://www.sandiegocounty.gov/content/sdc/hhsa/programs/phs/community_epidemiology/dc/2019-nCoV/vaccines/COVID-19-VaxEvents.html Reservations are required. If you have trouble making an online appointment, you can call 211.
Today’s mass vaccinations at Petco Park were cancelled after wind damaged the facility. Anyone with an appointment missed today will be given priority to reschedule this week, when extra hours have been added.
Both Fletcher and Wooten urged the public and businesses to follow public health guidelines.
Photo, left, by Erik Herrara: Outdoor worship service in El Cajon, held without a permit, defied public health orders.
Fletcher addressed a question from East County Magazine regarding county enforcement over potential super-spreader events, such as an outdoor worship service in El Cajon last weekend that drew hundreds of people, most not wearing masks, including the Mayor of El Cajon and Cajon Valley School Board member Jill Barto.
“We understand there are a lot of forces out there, including elected officials advocating open defiance,” Fletcher noted. He indicated that the county is investigating complaints and will issue cease and desist orders, in some cases public closure notices such as with businesses not complying, and follow up by law enforcement as needed.
Dr. Wooten stated, “There is an unfortunate irony that unsafe events only serve to increase the case count--and punishes businesses and those who have lost loved ones.”
While the state's latest orders will bring some relief to beleagured businesses, some argue that the changes don't go far enough.
Senate Republican leader Shannon Grove of Bakersfield issued this statement: "Once again, the Governor moved the goalpost and made a decision based on secret data that the public was not allowed to know. It has been 312 days since the first of his many lockdown orders that have shuttered businesses, closed schools, destroyed jobs, and led to a massive fraud of taxpayer dollars. “Without the full release of data, it has been difficult not to speculate that the governor has been using the livelihoods of 40 million Californians as political pawns. Californians deserve full transparency, especially when their life, livelihood, children’s education, and mental health are being directly affected."
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.