REGION — The San Diego County Board of Supervisors today directed the chief administrative officer to make recommendations on how to spend $48 million in federal pandemic-related funding, with emphasis on struggling child care providers, testing in schools and senior citizen meal programs.
The CAO will return with recommendations on allocating the CARES Act money at the board’s next meeting in August. If supervisors vote yes, $25 million of the funding would be spent on child care providers; $5 million would support the county Department of Public Health’s Testing, Tracing, and Treatment strategy specifically dedicated for K-12 schools; and $18.8 million would be put toward senior food programs that also support participating restaurants, and potentially doing more testing at the border.
The board’s vote was 3-2, with Supervisors Jim Desmond and Kristin Gaspar opposed. Both suggested that rather than food program for seniors, the money would be better spent on food banks to benefit a greater number of residents. Gaspar agreed with Desmond on the food banks, and objected to spending money on testing in schools.
As a parent, Gaspar said she preferred having her family pediatrician handle that medical need.
Supervisor Nathan Fletcher, who introduced the CARES Act funding proposal, said the need for child care providers is great among parents who need to get back to work.
“We have more 600 child care providers who have closed their businesses, and will need help,” Fletcher said. “If our staff could come up with a regional plan in helping this industry, that would be appropriate. We have a half-million school-age children. Let’s get ahead of the curve to assist our schools.”
The board’s vote after Dr. Wilma Wooten, the county public health officer, reported that the number of COVID-19 cases has significantly increased, with 578 new cases and 12 deaths reported Tuesday.
“In recent weeks, we’ve had an obvious increase in cases, and will expect to see more,” Wooten said. “We know COVID-19 is pervasive in our community.”
Wooten said that most outbreaks can be traced back to restaurants or bars. She said that as of Monday, 6.3% of tests were positive, while 57% of investigations into outbreaks are initiated within 24 hours. Wooten said county staffers are undertaking key mitigation efforts.
According to the county, the rate of COVID-19 cases in the region surpassed the state’s threshold of no more than 100 positive cases per 100,000 residents. The county reported a rate of 112.8 positive cases per 100,000 residents last Thursday, a number that increased from 103.8 per 100,000 just three days prior.
In response to two weeks of rising COVID-19 cases, county public health officials on Monday ordered a halt to all indoor operations in businesses such as bars, restaurants, museums, zoos, cardrooms, theaters and family entertainment centers. The restrictions took effect at 12:01 a.m. this morning and will be in place for at least three weeks.
Restaurants that are open with dine-in indoor service cannot allow any new customers inside past 10 p.m. Outdoor dining will still be permitted, along with delivery and takeout.
Don Steuer, assistant chief administrative officer, said that because the county is now on the state’s watch list, officials decided to pull back on opening county facilities, including libraries.
“It’s frustrating to take a step back, but numbers show this remains a growing health threat,” Steuer said.
The county’s overall pandemic response costs are $330 million so far, said Andy Pease, the county Health & Human Services Agency finance director. He added that there is now state funding available, up to $500 million, for 17 smaller cities in the county, with submissions due by July 10.
The board heard from more than 30 county residents during a call-in forum, and received both praise and condemnation for their efforts to control the pandemic.
Many described themselves as business owners negatively impacted by the closures, while others said they were struggling to pay their rent.
Debra Rosen, president of the North San Diego Business Chamber, praised Desmond and Gaspar for wanting to re-open businesses and said the three- week restriction on various businesses was confusing.
“These businesses are operated by real people,” Rosen said. “Many businesses have done what you have asked, only to be shut down again. Too many people have suffered because of decisions made by a few.”
Peter Comiskey, of the Balboa Park Cultural Partnership, said he’s not aware of any outbreaks caused by museum visits. He said many who visit are in family groups and the museum takes numerous steps to stress safety. He added his group wants to work with the county on keeping museums open.
A woman who described herself as a registered nurse in Gaspar’s district said the county needs to maintain preventive measures “for the welfare of our county.”
“The virus is unpredictable,” she said. “Our business won’t benefit if their workers or customers are dying.”
The nurse said an unrestricted opening means her hospital will be too full to accommodate patients. “We have to prioritize human life,” she said, adding those who won’t wear masks are “acting despicably.”
One caller noted he’s a senior citizen and his age group is especially vulnerable to the virus, and wearing a mask is vital to slowing the spread.
“I would hope my life deserves a minimal amount of respect,” he said.
Board Chairman Greg Cox noted that during past board meetings, several public speakers “went over the top” in their criticism of Wooten, including one who gave out her home address.
“Our public health director has the toughest job of any of us,” Cox said, adding that 17 letters of commendation for Wooten will be part of the official record.
“We have complete confidence in Dr. Wooten and her medical staff,” he said.