San Diego County Board of Supervisors
Greg Cox, District 1; Dianne Jacob, District 2; Kristin Gaspar, District 3; Nathan Fletcher, District 4, Jim Desmond, District 5.

The Board of Supervisors Tuesday voted unanimously to make San Diego County’s $20 million Small Business Stimulus Grant program available to all businesses affected by COVID-19 safety restrictions.

Supervisors voted to expand the small business relief program via teleconference after hearing an update on the county’s efforts to combat the spread of the virus as well as information about future vaccine distribution. They also heard from numerous businesses owners angry over the newest state restrictions mandated by Gov. Gavin Newsom.

The restrictions, which went into effect at 11:59 p.m. Sunday, were triggered when intensive-care unit bed availability remained below 15% after Saturday’s daily update, according to the California Department of Public Health.

New infections and hospitalizations from the coronavirus have surged in San Diego County, which reported reported 1,276 new COVID-19 infections Tuesday, the eighth consecutive day and 16th time in 19 days there have been more than 1,000 new cases. In addition, a daily record of 26 deaths was reported, bringing the total to 1,088.

The county has received nearly $390 million in federal CARES Act funding to help residents and businesses since the pandemic started earlier this year.

Supervisor Nathan Fletcher, who proposed expanding the business aid, said he understands the impact a regional stay-at-home order has on business owners, and “expanding this economic stimulus program will provide bridge funding to support them and their workers while the restrictions to slow the spread are in place.”

Fletcher, who also serves as co-chair of the county’s COVID-19 subcommittee, added that he understands people are frustrated by restrictions, but “when we go from 200 to 2,000 cases a day, we have to change what we’re doing.”

Dr. Wilma Wooten, county public officer, told the board that the state of California is anticipating 327,000 doses of a COVID vaccine in mid December, with San Diego County expected to receive 28,275 doses in the state’s first round of distribution.

“I’m encouraged that our way forward will be seen with vaccinations to (create) herd immunity,” she said. As she has at other county meetings, Wooten again urged residents to follow guidelines, including washing hands and maintain social distancing.

“We can flatten the curve again,” she said.  “We can come out of this in a way that saves lives.”

Many residents who called in during the update’s public comment period voiced their frustrations over how the restrictions are harming them, their families and businesses. Along with business closures, the restrictions also apply to certain outdoor facilities, including playgrounds.

Paula Steger, co-owner of Artistic Laser Productions, said while it’s important for everybody to wear a mask and wash their hands, it’s also ” time to go about your daily lives.”

She said her business lost $60,000 worth of contracts because of restrictions.

“I was 7 when the Hong Kong flu hit,” Steger said. “The world didn’t shut down then, and we got through it. I’m done. I’m going to work wherever I can in a COVID-safe manner.”

Dr. Holly Yang, president of the San Diego County Medical Society, reminded residents that the fastest way to reopen the economy is to get the virus under control.

“We are at a critical moment — the majority of the county is doing the best it can to reduce spread of the virus,” Yang said.

A motion by Supervisor Jim Desmond that would allow certain county staff not to enforce closure of playgrounds failed. “This is for our kids,” who have a much better tolerance towards the coronavirus, said Desmond, board vice-chairman.

His colleague Dianne Jacob said she’d also like to see the playgrounds opened up, but it would be irresponsible of the county to defy state orders.

“Whether we like it or not, that’s what exists,” she said. “Otherwise, that encourages civil disobedience.”

If more residents had complied with basic prevention guidelines, the county wouldn’t be dealing with case spikes, Jacob said, adding, “Just wear the damn mask.”

Board Chairman Greg Cox said he was also sympathetic to Desmond’s motion, but couldn’t support it.

Cox said he disagrees with portions of state mandates, but the county is “in a crisis situation,” which may get much worse before the start of 2021.

Updated at 8:25 p.m., Tuesday, Dec. 8, 2020

— City News Service