The Coast News Group
In 2018, there have been nine reported Hepatitis A cases in North County and no deaths. Courtesy photo
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North County cities’ responses to hepatitis A outbreak vary

REGION — As the hepatitis A outbreak gripped San Diego County in 2017, cities in North County addressed the outbreak by different means.

Of the five cities that responded to The Coast News — Carlsbad, Encinitas, Oceanside, San Marcos and Vista — all coordinated with the county in some form or fashion.

Two of the cities — Carlsbad and Encinitas — went beyond coordinating with the county to address the outbreak’s spread, using money from city coffers.

“The city is aware that we have a homeless population and we wanted to decrease the environmental, health and aesthetic hazards associated with urination and defecation outside of approved sanitary facilities, as well as providing our homeless population with a dignified place to perform their normal bodily functions,” Encinitas spokeswoman Lois Yum said.    

While much of the focus of the outbreak was in the city of San Diego, which bore the brunt of the deaths and sick, North County was not spared from the outbreak.

Of the 571 reported cases in 2017 the outbreak’s peak, 133 of those cases were in North County, according to statistics from the County Department of Public Health. Three of the 20 hepatitis A deaths between 2017 and May were in North County.

In 2018, there have been nine reported Hepatitis A cases in North County and no deaths. 

Escondido’s response 

North County cities began their response to the outbreak shortly after the county declared a public health emergency on Sept. 1, 2017.

That month, Escondido deployed its community oriented policing and problem-solving unit to work with the county to administer hepatitis A vaccinations. According to various city manager reports, 60 vaccinations were given during September 2017, and a total of 100 were given during the length of the program. 

Beyond that, Escondido worked with the county’s Health and Human Services department to provide educational materials to local businesses and employees and went beyond the county’s sanitizing protocol when cleaning its permanent restroom and hand-washing facilities.

“As you can see, several steps are in place to efficiently and safely combat this latest

outbreak of hepatitis A,” City Manager Jeffrey Epp wrote in a weekly report to the council. “With the cooperation of our employees, our citizens and our friends at Health and Human Services, we are confident that this will soon be under control and virtually eliminated.”

Vista and San Marcos take additional steps 

In Vista and San Marcos, city officials coordinated vaccination clinics with the county and Palomar Pomerado Health, respectively. San Marcos hosted eight clinics and vaccinated 235 people, according to information provided by city spokeswoman Sarah MacDonald. 

Vista also vaccinated employees who worked in areas in maintenance and enforcement, while San Marcos offered free vaccinations to all staff and city volunteers.  

Vista and San Marcos, like Escondido, increased cleaning at public parks and public restrooms.

San Marcos installed hand sanitizing stations at public facilities and provided education material to all San Marcos businesses that handle food. A total of 377 packets were distributed citywide, MacDonald said. 

Carlsbad and Encinitas pay for portable restrooms

Both Carlsbad and Encinitas took additional steps, including installing temporary hand-washing facilities on loan from the county and paying for portable restrooms at strategic locations across the city where the homeless frequent. 

Carlsbad placed hand-washing stations at Magee, Maxton Brown, Holiday, Pine, Alga Norte and Stagecoach parks, and changed the bathroom hours at Cannon, Hosp Grove and Zone 5 so that people could legally access them 24 hours a day.

The city also installed portable restrooms by the Coastal Rail Trail at Oak Avenue, on Roosevelt Street near Grand Avenue in a city-owned parking lot and on a vacant lot next to the Cole Library. 

The city installed the hand-washing stations in October 2017 and the portable restrooms in November. Carlsbad returned the hand-washing stations by February. The portable restrooms are still in place. 

In Encinitas, officials in October installed portable restrooms (at city expense) and hand-washing stations at five locations: Swami’s Beach, Moonlight Beach, Encinitas Community and Senior Center, the City Hall lower parking lot and Leucadia Roadside Park.

Officials, however, relocated the fifth portable restroom a month later, after residents complained that the restroom had created a homeless hangout and increases in smoking, drinking and littering in the small pocket park in the heart of Leucadia. 

Since relocating it, city officials said the complaints have been kept to a minimum.