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Supervisors OK More Resources For COVID-19 Compliance, Enforcement

Patrons dining in front of Encinitas Cafe on Jan. 3, 2021, which was opened i...

Photo by Alexander Nguyen

Above: Patrons dining in front of Encinitas Cafe on Jan. 3, 2021, which was opened in violation of the regional stay-at-home order.

The county Board of Supervisors Tuesday approved several COVID-19 measures, including stepped-up enforcement of businesses not complying with restrictions, and a fair and consistent application of policies based on scientific data.

Supervisors voted 4-1, with Jim Desmond opposed. The compliance measures cover inspections responsive to complaints, proactive inspections, and citations for those violating the Safe Reopening Plan.

Based on a proposal from Supervisor Nora Vargas, where legally possible, businesses not in compliance with public health orders will not be eligible to receive county relief funding.

The board also voted in favor of continuing the county's Great Plates program, which provides thousands of meals to senior citizens on a weekly basis.

Board Chairman Nathan Fletcher said the county is "increasing resources and reaffirming our commitment to slowing the spread of COVID-19 in San Diego County, by expanding the scope and commitment of enforcement by our compliance team. Taking these actions will protect lives and help in the regional effort to beat COVID-19."

RELATED: US Asking States To Speed Vaccine, Not Hold Back 2nd Dose

Desmond said he supported other staff recommendations and Great Plates — but not increased enforcement on businesses, some of which have claimed being discriminated against.

"I believe all businesses should be able to operate safely," Desmond said. "If you treat people like adults, they'll act like it."

Supervisor Joel Anderson, who voted in favor of the policy measures, said the big challenge is inconsistency: mom-and-pop shops feel they are more targeted than big box stores when it comes to enforcement.

According to Fletcher's office, 335 cease-and-desist orders have been issued by the county's Safe Compliance Team. Within a few weeks, two-thirds of violators came into compliance, but one-third remained in violation.

The board voted on the new policies after hearing an update on county case numbers and efforts to vaccinate as many residents as possible.

On Monday, county public health officials reported 2,907 new COVID-19 infections, the 42nd consecutive day with more than 1,000 new diagnoses, bringing the cumulative case count to 194,795. No new fatalities from the disease were reported, leaving the death toll at 1,857.

RELATED: COVID-19 Cases Up Sharply Among Grocery Store, Pharmacy Workers

The county has reported 28 confirmed and 13 suspected diagnoses of the more virulent coronavirus variant known as B.1.1.7., first detected in the United Kingdom in December. There have been no confirmed deaths locally connected to the variant.

Dr. Wilma Wooten, the county's public health officer, said there is no current evidence that the new strain causes more severe illness or death, and that vaccines should be successful against it.

All mitigation measures will be effective against the strain, but if it becomes dominant, "it's even more important to stay at home," Wooten told the supervisors.

Nick Macchione, director of the county Health and Human Services Agency, said vaccinations are being distributed throughout the county, based on a tiered system.

Based on a suggestion from Desmond, Macchione said the county is working a website customer portal open to all San Diegans, "telling them where they stand, and notifying them of when the vaccine is available."

"We're encouraging all residents to receive the vaccination," Macchione said. In the meantime, while the vaccine is being rolled out, "we stress people to follow the guidelines of being safe," he added.

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