The San Diego County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously Tuesday to accept a $24.2 million grant from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control that will be used to address COVID-19 disparities among underserved populations, including those at higher risk for contracting the coronavirus.
The grant was awarded to the county’s COVID-19 Health Disparities Project — a collaboration of staff, community partners and contracted service providers — with an emphasis on racial and ethnic populations and rural communities.
Grant money will be spent on local COVID-19 response and prevention through increased testing, tracing and vaccination; improved public health data systems; better access to health and social services for vulnerable populations; and expanded public health infrastructure for COVID-19 prevention and control.
Nick Macchione, county Health and Human Services Agency director, said the grant is highly competitive and aligns with the board’s priorities.
Supervisor Jim Desmond said he was pleased to see this additional funding source, especially for rural communities, as it will benefit people who normally have to travel a great distance to receive medical help.
In a related action, the board unanimously approved $4.5 million in state funds that will be used for what was described as “a community health worker model,” where local groups will provide vaccination assistance, communications and outreach.
Supervisors received an update on the number of COVID-19 cases, along with continued efforts to combat the pandemic.
According to the county, the number of local COVID-19 cases has been rising over the past few weeks, increasing the case rate from 1.9 cases per 100,000 residents on June 15 to 3.7 cases per 100,000 residents, according to figures released Tuesday.
The daily case count increased to 355 on July 12 and has been at or above 200 for the last seven days. As of Tuesday, the county recorded 284,996 cases and a total to 3,785 deaths.
Dr. Wilma Wooten, county public health officer, said the county is “now seeing about double the number of cases that were being reported a month ago,” which has led to a 46% increase in hospitalizations and 10% uptake in intensive care unit admissions in the past few weeks.
“We expect further increases in ICU admissions since they lag behind the trend in cases and hospitalizations,” Wooten said.
The board also received an update on the second countywide vaccine confidence survey, which was conducted between June 13 and 24, to determine the most common concerns among residents hesitant to get a COVID-19 vaccine.
The survey focused on three areas:
- County residents who received their first shot of the COVID-19 vaccine and are overdue for the second dose
- Those who are hesitant about getting the vaccine because feel they do not have enough trusted information
- People who are vaccine resistant
The board voted 3-2 against a proposal by Supervisor Jim Desmond to send a letter to Gov. Gavin Newsom asking him reconsider a mask mandate for school children.
The state announced last week that students would have to wear masks at school, despite CDC guidance stating that vaccinated students and teachers wouldn’t need them.
“Clearly, I think the federal, state and public health doctors are not all on the same page” when it comes to masks, said Desmond, who praised county staffers for doing a “great job on protecting our most vulnerable populations.”
Desmond added that children should not be used to protect adults and that masks can be uncomfortable to students learning to speak, read and write.
“In the name of caring, and let kids attend school without masks,” he added.
His suggestion brought an emotional response from Supervisor Terra Lawson-Remer, who said she has personally struggled with this issue.
Lawson-Remer said her daughter has significant developmental delays, and not being able to see people’s faces has affected her ability to learn about speech.
However, Lawson-Remer said she would feel terrible if her daughter contracted the virus at school and then passed it on to someone else.
“At the end of the day, there’s a balance,” she added. “I have to come down on not what’s good for my own daughter, but what’s good for the collective, what’s good for everyone.”
The mask debate has become “politicized in a way that’s unhealthy, that’s unhelpful,” Lawson-Remer said.
Desmond said he respected and understood Lawson-Remer’s position.
“It’s about risk management,” Desmond said. “I appreciate your willingness to converse on this, but we just disagree.”
During Tuesday’s meeting, as on June 29, supervisors heard from residents opposed to vaccine programs and mask mandates. Some also took issue with the county accepting any further money to combat the pandemic.
Erik Wiese, a real estate broker based in El Cajon, said the federal government is facing a massive deficit, and “we need to keep that in mind while proposing throwing money at every single problem.”