Every day, tens of thousands of people safely shop at big box retail and grocery stores where respectful San Diego shoppers obey the mask, social distancing, and sanitation protocols. Churches, museums, restaurants, and the zoo are now open, but to a limited 25 percent capacity. Legoland, street fairs, and wedding venues have yet to open while liquor stores and marijuana dispensaries operate unabated.
While big-box retailers thrive, many small businesses are not afforded the same opportunity to serve customers and put their employees back to work. If the safety protocols work for businesses with thousands of customers and hundreds of employees, why shouldn’t the same safety protocols work for all businesses?
Just when you think it can’t get worse, it does. Under the guise of a reopening plan, the state’s latest action actually keeps many business sectors closed and workers out of work.
San Diego County just got off the watchlist and the state, again, changed the standards. The latest State of California guidelines has four levels, from worst to best: purple, red, orange, and yellow. San Diego County currently is in the red tier. This allows our region to reopen some businesses for indoor use (with safety protocols), some businesses with very limited indoor use, and others are required to remain closed.
The state’s tiered system is deeply flawed, for a couple of reasons.
First, even if a vaccine is developed and implemented, it would be statistically impossible to get to the least restrictive yellow tier, which only allows 50 percent capacity openings. In May of this year, when the governor said businesses won’t open until there are zero deaths for 14 straight days, that was unachievable and eventually retracted. The new criteria to get to yellow is one positive case per 100,000 people. Even a vaccine, when readily available, can’t guarantee those results.
A tier beyond yellow, that would potentially allow regional employers like Legoland to open, is not even mentioned in the state’s new plan.
Second, the one-size-fits-all approach is stifling business sectors that struggle to reopen, stay open, and keep people employed. For example, restaurants and churches, regardless of size and capacity, are limited to no more than 100 patrons indoors. Some larger churches in San Diego have 3,500 seats in their sanctuaries. But the state has mandated that no more than 100 people [can] worship in any facility, regardless of size.
In April, we were told that we needed to protect hospital beds and intensive care unit (ICU) respirators, there was limited personal protective equipment (PPE), and we weren’t sure what the virus would bring or do to the population. Six months later, our hospitals have plenty of capacity and patient numbers are stable. As of August 30, 7% of hospital beds are Coronavirus patients, about 300 of 4,200 occupied beds in the system, with fewer than 100 of those in ICU beds. PPE is widely available, and we can identify, treat, and protect the most vulnerable people in San Diego. Contrary to some of the messaging San Diegans hear, we are in good shape as a region when it comes to treating and protecting people from coronavirus.
The state’s new tiered system, disguised as a reopening plan, really keeps businesses closed and prevents people from earning income to pay for food and housing. It was simply a rearranging of the deck chairs on our economic titanic, and if changes don’t come soon, San Diego residents will feel the impacts for years to come. Business owners will rise to the occasion and do the right thing. Let’s give them the opportunity to put our workforce back to work.