Supervisor Nathan Fletcher speaks by video during the Board of Supervisors meeting. Image from video

The San Diego County Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday to ask the state to approve in-person dining and shopping and will separately ask Gov. Gavin Newsom to accelerate the reopening of hair salons, gyms, youth sports and outdoor religious services.

Under the first of two measures, the board voted unanimously to ask the state to approve in-person dining at restaurants and retail shopping, as long as businesses enact social distancing measures and follow various restrictions to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

The second measure calls for a pilot program that would include outdoor religious services, hair and nail salons, fitness facilities, youth sports and clubs, and pools at apartment complexes. The pilot program would also allow therapeutic and peer support groups to offer sessions, but with no more than 12 people.

The vote on the pilot program was 4-1, with Supervisor Nathan Fletcher opposed. The county will now send a formal letter to Newsom in support of a pilot program to further open facilities.

Supervisor Nathan Fletcher’s statement on reopening vote. (PDF)

In a written statement, Fletcher said he believes the county is ready to responsibly reopen businesses in Stage 2 consistent with the guidelines Newsom outlined Monday. However, “given we have not even opened Stage 2 businesses, I do not believe it is time to call on the state to allow the immediate opening of Stage 3 entities including higher-risk activities like gathering and businesses with high exposure, intensity and duration of risk, Fletcher said.

Newsom has said he believes the county will be ready to move into Stage 3 at the beginning of June, Fletcher added.

Although the county must wait for Newsom’s approval, Supervisor Jim Desmond called the pilot plan “a step in the right direction.”

Desmond said if the county doesn’t allow for more facilities to reopen, the health crisis will only expand based on how the stay-at-home mandate is affecting people, and unemployment will increase.

The move won support from numerous business owners who called in during the teleconference meeting.

Other residents who called in urged the board to take any reopening slowly to avoid another major outbreak in cases.

County CEO Helen Robbins-Meyer said Newsom has made it clear that no county can move to Stage 3 of reopening — unless its government can ensure they’ve had no infection.

“We remain committed to abiding by the state’s order,” she said, but believes San Diego County is uniquely qualified to meet some Stage 3 criteria because of its practices.

“I cannot say the governor will approve this pilot,” Robbins-Meyer said, but if he does even approve part of it, the county can move forward.

The supervisors voted after hearing an update on the county’s efforts to contain further spread of the coronavirus. Health officials said the county is ready to move further into Stage 2 of the California resiliency roadmap.

Robbins-Meyer said the county meets Stage 2 acceleration criteria. According to the county, that criteria includes:

  • Less than 5% of daily COVID-19 hospitalizations over a 7-day period or no more than 20 COVID hospitalizations on any single day in the past 14 days;Fewer than 25 new cases per 100,000 residents in the past 14 days or less than 8% testing positive in the past 7 days.
  • A capacity to be able to test 1.5 per every 1,000 residents and at least 15 staff per 100,000 county population trained and available for contact tracing, and;
  • Hospital capacity for a possible surge of 35% of hospitalizations due to COVID-19 cases in addition to providing usual care for other patients.

“Based on the current readiness criteria, San Diego County is ready to move to the Accelerated Stage 2 of the state’s plan,” said Wilma J. Wooten, the county public health officer. “The county has made great progress in the fight against COVID-19 and it is now safe for certain businesses to resume operations if they can implement safety measures outlined by the county and state.”

State Sen. Brian Jones issued a statement commending the majority of supervisors for their vote.

“The last eight weeks have taken a devastating toll on small businesses, their workers and families throughout the region,” said the Santee Republican.

“After some prodding by a lot of us, including Supervisors Desmond and Gaspar, the full Board is finally starting to ‘get it.’ Our battle for control of our own lives is not yet over but at least it’s a start.”

Jones concluded: “It is time to get back to work, to stop being afraid and start living life as it was meant to be lived.”

Updated at 6:15 p.m. May 19, 2020

— City News Service contributed to this report.

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Chris Jennewein

Chris Jennewein is Editor & Publisher of Times of San Diego.