Supervisors Ask Staff To Create CARES Act Spending Plan To Support Child Care
Tuesday, July 7, 2020
Credit: San Diego County
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If supervisors vote yes, $25 million of the funding would be spent on child care providers; $5 million would support the county Department of Public Health's Testing, Tracing, and Treatment strategy specifically dedicated for K-12 schools; and $18.8 million would be put toward senior food programs.
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Funding may be on the way to help San Diego County child care providers operate safely during the pandemic. The San Diego County Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday to develop a spending plan for $48.8 in COVID-relief funds and more than half is intended to support child caretakers.
The measure that directs staff to create a strategy for review at the board’s August meeting would include $25 million for child care providers as well as $5 million toward testing in public schools. The remaining $18.8 million is expected to cover food services, which may include an expansion of a senior meal program that relies on restaurants or to bolster local food banks, and possible testing at the border.
Supervisor Nathan Fletcher proposed the motion because he said supporting caretakers and schools is crucial to the region’s economy.
"We have more than 600 child care providers who have closed their businesses, and will need help," Fletcher said. "If our staff could come up with a regional plan in helping this industry, that would be appropriate. We have a half-million school-age children. Let's get ahead of the curve to assist our schools."
The measure passed 3-2 after much debate. Supervisor Dianne Jacob initially opposed the motion but offered support if it included funds to expand or support the Great Plates program, which provides restaurant-made meals to local seniors.
Jacob said the initiative supports isolated San Diegans while also giving a boost to local businesses impacted by shutdown orders. She read an email from a restaurant owner who called the program "an incredible lifeline” for his business and employees.
“I think that’s typical of others are that participating,” Jacob said.
Supervisors Jim Desmond and Kristin Gaspar voted against the motion. Desmond had proposed using funds to also benefit local food banks instead of just the program that provides meals to seniors, but he but objected to Jacob's request that restaurants must be a part of any food services supported by the relief dollars.
"I'm not anti-restaurants, I'm pro-restaurants, I'm just trying to get the best bang for our buck with what we're doing," Desmond said.
He said the county staff directed to create the spending plan should be able to determine the best use of public dollars without that requirement.
Gaspar said she was especially opposed to the testing in schools.
"As a mother of three, I prefer to keep my child's' medical care between my trusted pediatric team, and if we're trying to come up with a way to test our kids at school that's something as a parent I'd be extremely uncomfortable with," Gaspar said.
She had suggested using the dollars earmarked for testing in schools and put it toward food banks.
The board's vote came after Dr. Wilma Wooten, the county public health officer, reported that the number of COVID-19 cases has significantly increased, with 578 new cases and 12 deaths reported Tuesday. The county also reported a 10% positive rate among the 5,530 tests conducted. The 14-day rolling average is 5.9%.
"In recent weeks, we've had an obvious increase in cases, and will expect to see more," Wooten said. "We know COVID-19 is pervasive in our community."
Wooten also noted the county is currently hitting three of its 13 triggers intended to alert officials when corrective action may be necessary to curb spread of the virus. That includes the region's case rate, which has surged well above the state's threshold of 100 per 100,000 to 136.1 per 100,000 as of Monday — a jump from 103.8 a week prior. The rapid rise put the county on the state's watch list, resulting in governor-ordered closures to indoor operations at several types of businesses.
The county is also failing to begin investigating more than 70% of cases within 24 hours of notification over a seven-day period. Wooten said that figure was 57% but that the county was bringing on more staff to help mitigate the problem.
Wooten also reported the county was still hitting its trigger for community outbreaks with 21 reported in the last seven days. The goal is fewer than seven. She said most are traced back to restaurants or bars.
The figures were based on data released Monday but later updated with Tueday's data on the county's trigger dashboard.
In response to two weeks of rising COVID-19 cases, county public health officials on Monday followed the state's direction and ordered a halt to all indoor operations in businesses such as restaurants, museums, zoos, cardrooms, theaters and family entertainment centers. The restrictions took effect at 12:01 a.m. Tuesday morning and will be in place for at least three weeks.
Outdoor dining will still be permitted, along with delivery and takeout. Under earlier implemented county restrictions, restaurants that are open with dine-in indoor service cannot allow any new customers inside past 10 p.m.
Don Steuer, assistant chief administrative officer, said that because the county is now on the state's watch list, officials decided to pull back on opening county facilities, including libraries.
"It's frustrating to take a step back, but numbers show this remains a growing health threat," Steuer said.
The county's overall pandemic response costs are $330 million so far, said Andy Pease, the county Health & Human Services Agency finance director. He added that there is now state funding available, up to $500 million, for 17 smaller cities in the county, with submissions due by July 10.
The board heard from more than 30 county residents during a call-in forum, and received both praise and condemnation for their efforts to control the pandemic.
Many described themselves as business owners negatively impacted by the closures, while others said they were struggling to pay their rent.
Debra Rosen, president of the North San Diego Business Chamber, praised Desmond and Gaspar for wanting to re-open businesses and said the three-week restriction on various businesses was confusing.
"These businesses are operated by real people," Rosen said. "Many businesses have done what you have asked, only to be shut down again. Too many people have suffered because of decisions made by a few."
Peter Comiskey, of the Balboa Park Cultural Partnership, said he's not aware of any outbreaks caused by museum visits. He said many who visit are in family groups and the museum takes numerous steps to stress safety. He added his group wants to work with the county on keeping museums open.
A woman who described herself as a registered nurse in Gaspar's district said the county needs to maintain preventive measures "for the welfare of our county."
"The virus is unpredictable," she said. "Our business won't benefit if their workers or customers are dying."
The nurse said an unrestricted opening means her hospital will be too full to accommodate patients. "We have to prioritize human life," she said, adding those who won't wear masks are "acting despicably."
One caller noted he's a senior citizen and his age group is especially vulnerable to the virus, and wearing a mask is vital to slowing the spread. "I would hope my life deserves a minimal amount of respect," he said.
Board Chairman Greg Cox noted that during past board meetings, several public speakers "went over the top" in their criticism of Wooten, including one who gave out her home address. He said the board stood behind Wooten.
“We have complete confidence in Dr. Wooten and her medical staff and the job that she’s been doing over these last few months,” Cox said. “This has been a very difficult time for everyone and I can assure you she has the toughest job in the county right now having to deal with these issues.”
He said the county’s call-in system had prevented staff from censoring the previous inappropriate comments during the live meeting but the remarks were later removed in the recorded version.
Cox said the county received at least 17 emails over the last two weeks in support of Wooten. The San Diego County Medical Society has also backed the public health officer with a social media campaign using the hashtag #ISupportMyPHO.
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