SAN DIEGO COUNTY, Calif. — San Diego County’s Board of Supervisors unanimously voted Tuesday to send an accelerated Stage 2 reopening plan to the state. It also voted 4-1 to request permission to reopen some Stage 3 businesses.
The vote came a day after Gov. Gavin Newsom relaxed some of the metrics used by counties to determine when they can move through Stage 2. County leaders called the state’s previous guidelines “unrealistic” for urban counties.
“I can confidently say San Diego county is ready to move to the accelerated stage 2 and begin to reopen,” said Wilma Wooten, M.D., M.P.H, the county’s Public Health Officer.
Wooten detailed how San Diego had achieved all the state’s modified criteria, including:
- Between May 11 and May 17, the county had a 3.3% percentage of positive tests. The state requires a percentage of 8% or less.
- San Diego County currently has a 14-day supply of personal protective equipment for hospital workers and plans to have enough for 60 days by the end of July.
- The state requires the county to have capacity to test a minimum of 4,950 based on population. San Diego currently has the capacity to test 6,381 however it has yet to test that many in any given day. Wooten said she expects the county will test 4,950 by the end of the month. There are currently 392 testing sites available countywide.
- San Diego must have at least 495 contact tracers to help identify those who were recently in close contact with people who tested positive. So far, the county has 345 employed, including 87 working and 100 trained, but who are not working; 158 who are hired, but have not been trained. On Monday, the county contracted with San Diego State University for an additional 100 tracers and are working on another contract for 65 more. It posted a request for quotes to bring on additional tracers that will eventually bring the total number of tracers to 611.
- Several hospitals gave public comment in support of the reopening. The state requires counties to show they can handle a 35% surge of patients in the event of more cases. San Diego is averaging 139 people in the hospital for coronavirus symptoms at any given time. Wooten said the county has surge capacity of 2,153 beds reserved for coronavirus patients. There are an additional 202 beds available at a federal medical station and the county can use 170 beds at a University of California – San Diego residence hall.
- Finally, the county ensured skilled nursing facilities have enough protective equipment and, in conjunction with the county, can contain and manage any potential outbreak.
“We have met the metrics required by the state,” said Wooten, who believes the county saw its peak of cases on April 20.
More than 600 people provided public comments to the board of supervisors prior to Tuesday’s meeting while dozens more spoke. Most were in favor of reopening the county through Stage 2. With the unanimous vote, the county sent its plan to the state for review. If approved, it would be one of, if not, the first county in Southern California to move further into Stage 2. In-person dining and in-person retail shopping with social distancing would be some of the first businesses to reopen under the accelerated Stage 2 plan.
Restaurants and retail shops are encouraged to review the state guidance for their business and complete San Diego County’s Safe Reopening Plan, which is required to be displayed on the premises.
In addition, the supervisors voted 4-1 to send a separate, proposed pilot “Stage 2 Plus” program to Sacramento. Local leaders admitted the state is skeptical about the plan but agreed to review it.
Currently, no county can move into Stage 3 until they show Stage 2 did not have a significant impact on coronavirus numbers. If approved by the state, the plan would allow some businesses in Stage 3 to reopen.
The county suggests on May 22 that the state allow the reopening of:
- Research labs
- Peer support groups of 10 or less people
- Modified youth sports/club
- Salons by appointment only at 25% capacity
- Fitness facilities, by appointment only, at 25% capacity
- HOA/Apartment/Condo pools at 25% capacity
- Outdoor religious services
County officials cited their experience in handling the initial flights from Wuhan, cruise ships, and American patients who live in Baja California, but sought care locally, as proof that it can handle any additional cases brought on by the further reopening of businesses.
The plan would keep these businesses in Stage 3:
- Movie theaters
- Indoor religious services
- Sports leagues
- Tours/sport fishing
- Art/Cultural Venues
- Personal services
Supervisor Kristen Gaspar recommended the county public health officer also consider:
- Peer support groups of 12 or less
- Reopen all pools at 25% capacity
- Fully reopen beaches to permit sitting, stopping and activities while maintaining distance. Parking lots would remain closed.
- Reopen trade schools/apprenticeships
- Review proposed modifications to the San Diego Zoo and Safari Park that could allow it to open as an “outdoor museum.”
While the county would like to enter Stage 2 Plus on May 22, for Memorial Day weekend, there is no requirement for the state to decide by that date. If approved, it would make San Diego the first county in the state to enter Stage 3.