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

Assemblyman Todd Gloria, D-San Diego, announced Thursday that the Senate approved a bill he co-authored with two other San Diego County legislators designed to make local governments more active during communicable disease outbreaks.

Assembly Bill 262 would require county health officials across the state to issue directives to the cities they oversee during outbreaks. Counties would also be required to make information, such as where cases are concentrated, available to those cities.

Gloria co-authored the bill with Assembly members Lorena Gonzalez, D- San Diego, and Tasha Boerner-Horvath, D-Encinitas, in response to a state auditor report on the 2017-2018 hepatitis A outbreak in San Diego County that killed 20 people and hospitalized more than 400.

The Senate’s 39-0 vote on Tuesday sent the bill to Gov. Gavin Newsom’s desk for a signature. Gloria and Gonzalez introduced the bill in January and the Assembly unanimously approved it in May.

“San Diego learned the hard way what happens when we fail to prioritize public health,” Gloria said. “With this legislation signed into law, we can ensure local officials effectively manage any future communicable disease outbreaks and the public is adequately protected.”

The December 2018 report by state Auditor Elaine Howle found that San Diego County health officials failed to vaccinate at-risk residents quick enough or consider the level of resources like nurses necessary to protect residents from the outbreak. While health officials confirmed an average of 20 new hepatitis A cases each week from May to mid-September 2017, vaccinations only began to spike in September.

The county also was sluggish to communicate information about hepatitis A cases with the city of San Diego, waiting to share outbreak data until eight months after the first case of the infection was confirmed.

As a result, both the city and county failed to increase access to sanitizing resources like hand-sanitizing stations and public restrooms until months after cases were first reported.

“I am appreciative of Assemblymember Todd Gloria for working with the county of San Diego to pass this measure,” county Supervisor Nathan Fletcher said. “I hope Gov. Gavin Newsom will sign AB 262 to ensure health officials at the local level are able to effectively protect their communities.”

Newsom must sign or veto the bill by Oct. 13. If approved, the bill would go into effect Jan. 1, 2020.

–City News Service