County supervisor has ‘grave concerns’ about latest business reopenings as he addresses Bird Rock meeting
The day after some types of businesses in San Diego County were allowed to reopen indoor operations in a limited capacity, county Supervisor Nathan Fletcher was on hand Sept. 1 at the online Bird Rock Community Council meeting to discuss the latest in the COVID-19 pandemic and field questions from those who attended. He continued to express “grave concerns” that the county was reopening businesses “too fast.”
Fletcher, whose District 4 includes La Jolla, said he was “on the losing end” of a 4-1 vote in June when the county first tried to reopen many businesses. “It spiked our cases, put us on the state monitoring list and forced us to close some indoor operations,” he said.
Also in June, Fletcher and his wife, state Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, announced that, though they had tested negative for the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, they would self-quarantine for two weeks after coming in close contact with someone who had tested positive.
Now, Fletcher said, he’s concerned about the most recent reopening attempt. Since Aug. 31, restaurants, places of worship, movie theaters and museums have been allowed to maintain up to 25 percent occupancy or 100 people, whichever is less. Gyms may operate with 10 percent occupancy. Retail businesses are restricted to 50 percent occupancy.
Nail and hair salons and barbershops may operate indoors with normal capacity.
All indoor businesses still must abide by social distancing and face-covering mandates, as well as having a detailed Safe Reopening Plan on file with the county.
“The region has had success in bringing the case numbers down … [but] I think we are reopening too many things all at once,” Fletcher said. “It’s not that I don’t want as many businesses to open as possible; my concern is we could spike our cases and be in a position to close again. We are also doing this at a time when we have colleges going back, with students back on campus. You can have all the rules and protocols in the world, but very few college kids go to college to physically distance themselves from others … and critically important, we have K-12 schools trying to reopen in some configuration and some manner, and I think it’s important we support them.”
However, with the decision made, the challenge now is making sure the public is “working together to do the best we can with the situation we are in,” he said.
“We continue to plead with the public … to wear their mask, physically distance from others not in their household, avoid large indoor settings and wash their hands,” Fletcher said. “We can’t lose sight of the fact that just because we are off the state monitoring list and we are able to reopen some things that [COVID-19] has gone away … especially as we go into a holiday [Labor Day] weekend.”
Addressing a question from BRCC trustee Ron Fineman, Fletcher said two controversial topics have come up: a recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report on deaths of those who had underlying health conditions and the so-called Swedish approach of herd immunity.
“A colleague of mine [Supervisor Jim Desmond] said there are only so many of what he calls ‘pure COVID deaths’ and our public health officials begged him to stop using that term because it misrepresents what’s going on,” Fletcher said. “The thing to keep in mind, if you have diabetes and get shot in the head, it wasn’t the diabetes that killed you, it was the gunshot wound to the head. And if you don’t have diabetes and get shot in the head, it was the gunshot wound that killed you. For individuals that have underlying health conditions — which makes up the majority of people — and COVID is what killed you, we count it as a COVID death.”
The “Swedish approach” is to establish herd immunity, a form of indirect protection from infectious disease that occurs when a sufficient percentage of a population has become immune to an infection, whether through vaccination or previous infections, thereby reducing the likelihood of infection for individuals who lack immunity. Fletcher said it would mean “exposing everyone” and that “millions of Americans would die and we would overwhelm the health care system.”
Fletcher said the death rate in Sweden, where the method has been tested, is much higher than that of countries around it and that its economy has seen no benefit.
He also said the Board of Supervisors would focus on equity issues associated with the pandemic. “This is hard on everyone, but it’s much harder on certain communities. If you are a service worker or living in a multi-generational household, if you have children with special needs, this is harder on you,” he said. “We know this is harder on the Latino community; they are more than double the rate of positive cases as they are percentage of the population and have less access to health care opportunities. We have to take conscious steps to address that.”
Answering questions about possible “hysteria” associated with the coming cold and flu season, Fletcher cited a study that concluded that “rigorous hand-washing saw a 75-80 percent decline in all respiratory illness. So the things you do to prevent COVID are the same things you do to avoid catching the common cold and flu. If we hold true, we could have one of the best flu seasons we have ever had.”
He encouraged anyone with questions about county orders to contact his office at (619) 531-5544.
Other Bird Rock news
Request to close Calumet Park: BRCC treasurer Barbara Dunbar said questions have come up about safety and access issues at Calumet Park and that a request was made to close it to the public.
“We have gotten some complaints about people not social distancing and large non-family gatherings,” she said. “A request was made to [San Diego City Council member Barbara Bry’s office] to close the park due to observed lack of compliance of regulations and with safety concerns.”
As a stopgap measure, additional signage was posted at the park outlining the city’s rules.
“People have been monitoring the situation since the complaint was filed and there … was a drop in the number of people congregating after the new signs went up,” Dunbar said. “What I’m waiting to hear is whether anyone really and truly thinks closing down the park ... will serve any purpose beyond irritating a lot of people. We need to keep enforcing the rules, but we need to keep the parks open. We need to get the word out that if people don’t comply, one of the potential solutions is to close the park down.”
Forward Street repairs not moving forward: Citing “significant funding limitations and a backlog of emergency repair projects,” a design fix for a roundabout at Forward Street is on hold for a year.
The roundabout on La Jolla Boulevard at Forward Street floods when it rains, and residents have taken to calling it “Lake Forward.”
Steve Hadley, representing Bry’s office, reported that a representative of the city Transportation & Storm Water Department told him that “the design for the location is complete” but would not be executed for a year.
He said Bry was gathering suggestions for capital improvement projects the city could fund, “and maybe put Forward Street on as the project for Bird Rock.” He said he was going to see how much the repair would cost.
“If it is not tons and tons of money, maybe [we could] find a way to do it as a request during budget time that gets asked on the side,” he said. “We did this for [a project to repave] Hillside Drive this year. We knew it wasn’t enough for a line item in the budget, but we threw it in as something that is important and … it got some repaving. So there are ways to chip at this and not just let it sit.”
The Bird Rock Community Council next meets at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 6, online. Learn more at birdrockcc.org. ◆
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