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Ready to Reopen: Fletcher reflects on pandemic successes and regrets ahead of June 15 reopening

The board chair says at times, criticism against him was so bad, he needed police protection.

SAN DIEGO COUNTY, Calif. — After 15 months of COVID restrictions, we’re just days away from the state fully reopening on Tuesday, June 15.

County Board of Supervisors Chair, Nathan Fletcher spoke to News 8 about his successes, regrets, and his message to San Diegan's as we approach that date.

"You know, the first couple weeks of responding to COVID were really a blur. It started and it all unfolded so quickly," said Fletcher.

For Fletcher, the past year and a half has been one of the most exhausting periods of his political career.

“I was up at five usually working until 11 or 12 a.m., sleep for a few hours and get back up and it was a relentless push because each day was different."

In mid-February, Fletcher stood alongside other county leaders to announce an emergency declaration that had been extended in the county. Fletcher said, it had became clear that controlling the spread of COVID, to avoid a collapse of our health care system, was going to take a long time.

"I'll never forget being in a meeting...We had all the scientists, doctors, and the projections and analysis of options and said, 'that's all good, but when does it end?'," said Fletcher. "And it was at that moment that I realized, we're going to do this for a year or longer. Because until you have a vaccine, there's no way out."

Businesses were forced to shut down.

Corporations told employees to work remotely.

Students and teachers also transitioned from the classroom to their homes.

"It was hard. It was tough. It was challenging. Not only being a county supervisor and being involved every day in COVID, but I'm also a parent of five kids," said Fletcher.

From there, county leaders transformed the convention center into a homeless shelter. A controversial decision Fletcher said was necessary.

"That was all happening at the same time Boston and other places were having significant outbreaks in their homeless shelters," said Fletcher. "And so I think that was a success story. We managed to get all those folks moved and then we centralized services."

Fletcher considers the county's ability to set up dozens of testing sites and vaccine super-stations was among his other proud moments.

As for his regrets?

“One of the heartbreaking things was to see how differently COVID affected different communities," said Fletcher. "We know this was the most uneven recession we ever had. I wish we could have done more sooner to help those communities most impacted."

When asked about tension amongst his fellow board members, Fletcher said politics played a significant role.

"It was very challenging and it made it very hard and it continues until this day when you look at who is vaccinated and who is not. That has become a partisan issue," said Fletcher. "The more conservative areas have the lowest vaccination rates. The vaccine isn't ideological. It's to save lives."

WATCH: The full interview with Nathan Fletcher:

With frustration mounting not just amongst his colleagues, but within the community, Fletcher was on the receiving end of criticism.

At times, it got so bad, he needed police protection outside his home.

News 8 asked, “Did you ever take some of the criticism personally?”

“You can't help it, but to take criticism personally. You have people coming to your house. On Christmas Eve, when your youngest child says, 'daddy, we need to take the police officer some Christmas cookies,' because they're sitting in our driveway not home with their families," said Fletcher. "That's a moment where you realize, my gosh...the criticism was so intense and so pervasive, it was hard to escape it at times."

Looking back, Fletcher stands by his decisions, saying lives were saved because of them.

"As we approach June 15, what's your message to San Diegans?" asked News 8. 

"I think we got to take a moment to recognize the loss of life, recognize the negative economic impact and all the other negative impacts," said Fletcher. "But realize that we did as best we could to get through a truly unprecedented situation."

WATCH RELATED: Nathan Fletcher announces that San Diego is eligible to move into yellow tier on June 9 (June 2021)

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