County health workers give Hepatitis A shots at clinics and libraries.
County health workers give Hepatitis A shots at clinics and libraries. Photo by Chris Stone

The Joint Legislative Audit Committee Wednesday approved a request by Assemblyman Todd Gloria for a state audit of the response by the city of San Diego and San Diego County to the hepatitis A outbreak that killed 20 people and infected almost 600 last year.

“This is welcome news that the state auditor will officially and independently evaluate San Diego’s response to the hepatitis A outbreak,” said Gloria, D-San Diego. “My hope is this audit will help us learn what went wrong, what went right and how we, as a region, can improve for any future public health emergencies.

“We owe it to those who got sick and those who died to ask the tough questions about this tragedy,” he said. “This is a matter of protecting San Diegans and the quality of life we all cherish.”

Gloria is asking for the audit committee to determine whether the local outbreak response properly “identified, contained and treated” the public health threat “in accordance with statutory requirements and recommended procedures.” The audit is estimated to take five months.

The outbreak centered on the city’s growing homeless population and spread because of lack of access to basic sanitation.

City and county officials were criticized for not responding quickly enough to the outbreak, and for not sufficiently addressing ahead of the outbreak a homelessness crisis that was years in the making.

The county last week released its own report on local response to the outbreak, concluding that communication among jurisdictions, agencies and community partners during public health crises needs improvement. The county analysis also recommended the creation of a county and region-wide formal incident management structure that regularly meets.

County epidemiologists first reported increased hepatitis A cases in March 2017, at which point nurses began regularly administering vaccines.

The county declared a state of emergency Sept. 1 as the disease continued to spread. Linked cases in Los Angeles and Santa Cruz counties led to a statewide emergency declaration last October.

The San Diego County declaration was terminated Jan. 23 when the number of cases ramped down following the installation of public toilets and sinks.

–City News Service