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LATEST UPDATES: Tracking COVID-19 (coronavirus)

San Diego Businesses Prepare To Reopen

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The San Diego County Board of Supervisors voted to move further into phase two and reopen restaurants for dine-in service and some retailers with modifications.

Speaker 1: 00:00 Some retail stores and dining and restaurants may soon be open in San Diego. After yesterday's vote at the San Diego County board of supervisors, they approved a plan based on the governor's new criteria to move deeper into phase two reopening, which allows in store retail and dine in restaurants as long as they observe social distancing and other safety measures. The board also approved a more controversial plan, a pilot program, which would allow San Diego to move into phase three reopening. That would include the opening of businesses like fitness facilities and allow for outdoor religious services. It's not certain if the pilot program request will be approved by the governor's office. Joining me is KPBS reporter Matt Hoffman and Matt. Welcome. Hey Maureen. So when will restaurants and retail stores be able to open up to customers in San Diego?

Speaker 2: 00:52 Yeah, it's sort of the question that a lot of people want the answer to. Um, basically the answer right now is we don't know. Now we know that it could be as early as today. Now the state could give approval for the County to move further into stage two, which is like we were talking about, you know, restaurants for dining, uh, retail stores, things like swap meets could be allowed to reopen. Um, and right now after the County vote yesterday, we know that the County plan has been forwarded off to the state and now it's sort of in the state's hands, uh, whether or not they're going to prove that, but like we said, it could come down as early as today.

Speaker 1: 01:21 And why do supporters think San Diego is ready to open up even more and begin that pilot program to enter phase three?

Speaker 2: 01:30 Well, basically they say that the metrics are all trending in the right directions. Now County health officials pointing to things like lower rates of positive cases, also lower rates of the percentage of positive cases in daily testing. They also talk about increasing testing capacity. We've seen some of these state partnered sites coming in online, in Northern County, in the Southern part of the County. I'm also the County opening up some of their own testing sites and they talk about the ability of hospitals they believe have the capacity to flex up. If there was a surgeon cases, they believe that there is that hospital capacity bed there. Now it will be interesting to see, you know once the Greenlight is given to reopen and obviously we know that we are waiting for the state to give approval on that and keep in mind too, the County is going to have to re retool their public health order so there's going to be a little bit of a lag time there. It's not like right when the state approves it, it's you know, good to go right away in San Diego County but we'll be intrigued to see, you know, is there consumer confidence, are people going to be going out to restaurants? We saw, you know, people lining up at the casinos. They weren't necessarily afraid to go to the casinos. What will we see? The same thing for restaurants. I think that's a question a lot of business owners are wondering right now.

Speaker 1: 02:29 The expanded phase two proposal that about retail and dining restaurants was approved unanimously by the supervisors, but not the pilot program, which would move San Diego into phase three who voted no and why?

Speaker 2: 02:42 Right. Yeah, the pilot program was passed, but it was voted for one and a County supervisor, Nathan Fletcher was the lone dissenting vote on that. And his basic, basically his reasoning on that was a, you know, look, um, he does talk to the governor regularly. He says, and basically let you know, look, we haven't even made the jump further into phase two yet here. So why are we asking, you know, to already make the jump into phase three here. We haven't seen things like hair salons open. We haven't seen things like gyms open. So he just thinks it's too premature to sort of ask for more right now when we're, um, you know, not even, you know, leaping into this restaurant dining phase starting yet.

Speaker 1: 03:15 And the supervisors also heard from officials at San Diego hospitals who were both for and against moving faster than the state to reopen. Tell us what they said.

Speaker 2: 03:24 Yeah. You know, this was actually really interesting part. I thought of the board meeting. Um, so four hospital systems called into the board meeting while they were doing public comment, there was a lot of public comment and it was hours of public comment. Um, but basically, um, there's two hospitals, systems that are, that are, you know, for the reopening and two that we don't want urging some caution, you know, telling health officials, let's take this a little slower. Um, basically sharp healthcare officials saying that triggers for adjusting the plan specifically as it relates to hospital capacity. They say that they're not appropriate now. Also scripts healthcare. Now these are two of the largest healthcare organizations in San Diego County and they're also, uh, they say caring for a bulk of the COBIT 19 patients. But scripts is also urging caution warning that we only have a partial success story here in San Diego. Now they're concerned about rising cases in the South County and an uncertainty of like the supply chain here now had a chance to talk to their CEO, Chris van Gorder, CEO of Scripps health. And he sort of pointed to one of these metrics that they feel uncomfortable about in the county's plan. If they, you know, saw a surgeon cases and needed to flex beds back up.

Speaker 3: 04:23 Oh hospitals reach 80% capacity for all hospital beds in the County. Uh, and the Kennedy always talks about, you know, the 6,051 beds that's total beds in the County. That's not intensive care unit beds. That's not negative pressure isolation rooms. So we'd be in deep trouble, you know, long before we ever filled at 80% of our beds if our ICU beds were fall and our negative pressure isolation room rooms were full in a COBIT situation.

Speaker 2: 04:48 Now you also have scripts coming out and saying, look, you know, our hospital over in Chulavista, you know, we're having to send patients from there to our other hospitals here in the County because there's such a big need there. So they, they're kind of saying, look, if if we reopened more businesses, the fact of the matter is there's just going to be more cases cause there's going to be more people out there mingling around and their kind of thing is, look, this is going to put a strain on specifically in the South County and especially now that we're seeing, um, Imperial County, you know, patients from hospitals coming over here because they're so overwhelmed. Scripts is taking some of those patients. So they're looking at the overall picture here and you know, warning County health officials, Hey, we need to, you know, have some, uh, we need to take a second look at this and maybe slow down. But obviously none of the supervisors batted an eye at it. It's UC San Diego health and Palomar health, they called in support of the plan saying they support the County moving forward. Now they had said that they had had discussions with the County re reviewing this plan. Now scripts and sharp healthcare. They kind of hinted at, they didn't get those in depth discussions. So it's kind of unclear what, what happened there. But not all the hospitals on the same page here.

Speaker 1: 05:45 And when does the County expect to hear back from the governor on whether or not he's going to give the okay on that pilot program proposal? Right. So keep in mind this pilot program proposal is something that's sort of completely new, so it's not know obviously the state regularly accepting

Speaker 2: 05:58 these requests to move further into other phases like phase two. So this is sort of unique so the County doesn't really know what to expect here. Now we could hear back literally today on this, we could hear back in a couple of days, could hear back in a week. So we really don't know when we're going to hear back on that and if the state is even going to be receptive to the county's plan here.

Speaker 1: 06:15 I've been speaking with KPBS reporter Matt Hoffman and Matt. Thank you. Thanks Maureen. Joining me is Mark Cafferty, president and CEO of the San Diego regional economic development council. He also serves on the economic recovery advisory group, which put together a reopening plan for a local businesses. And Mark, welcome. Thanks for sharing. Thank you for walking me. What do you make of the county's decision to move forward with an accelerated reopening plan for retail and restaurants?

Speaker 4: 06:42 Well, you know, we feel that it's the right steps for them to be taking at this time and I think I, I really applaud and commend the County and the city for trying to have a collective voice, listening to the governor, pushing back where they feel like we should. And I think that we've been looking at a lot of businesses who've been trying to responsibly set the right tone and have the right things in place to reopen it. I think this gives them an opportunity to take the next steps in doing that.

Speaker 1: 07:09 What about the phase three pilot program that the County is requesting the governor approved, that's the one that would open up activities including youth sports and hair salons. Do you have any concerns about going into phase three if the governor gives San Diego the green light?

Speaker 4: 07:24 The thing for me and for our organization at the EDC is we've been trying to listen really closely to our healthcare leadership, trying to listen closely to the healthcare systems who are members of our organization and who we work with every day and obviously are a big and critical part of the economy. But playing, you know, a, uh, a really heroic role right now in trying to make sure that we stay healthy and then our ability to sort of flatten this curve and reopen in the most effective fashion is the, is essentially at the front of the guidelines we follow. So for me, first and foremost, looking at the healthcare and the science side of it, which the governor has repeatedly talked about doing and I believe the County and the city have always put front as well. And I think just really making sure that if we're taking responsible steps and we're adhering to the types of of guidelines and requests and parameters that are being put out, that we should make sure that the businesses have an opportunity to take the next steps into, into opening up and then to moving into the next phase of the various phases of reopening and recovery that the governor has defined.

Speaker 4: 08:25 I think sometimes the local level we're going to need to push a little bit more and I think sometimes the local level we really need to make sure that we stay level headed on this and we think about taking the right first steps and not rushing too fast to see some of the mistakes that other cities and quite frankly other countries have seen before us.

Speaker 1: 08:42 Do you think moving into phase three right now in San Diego would be rushing it?

Speaker 4: 08:46 I think moving into phase three right now would be rushing it. I think thinking through elements of phase three where we feel like segments of the business community or segments of the community activities are the types of activities or the types of businesses where we could make sure the appropriate social distancing was taken care of, that we could make sure that the various things that we know people are going to have to adhere to can be adhere to. And I think we have some of that, but I don't think that we're, I don't think that we're all there and we have to be very cautious not to reopen too quickly or I think all the progress that we have made from a healthcare perspective and as a, as a community and the economy could be lost very quickly. So, so I think we have some folks who are definitely ready to move into phase three and then some elements of our community and economy that are, but I think that we've got to really look at it closely and sort of case by case.

Speaker 1: 09:35 Moving back to the idea that the County is moving forward into phase two with the reopening of some businesses and some dine in restaurants. Will most businesses be able to afford to reopen

Speaker 4: 09:49 that? We don't know. But we have been working with hundreds of businesses, you know, and of course of a year we usually work with a few hundred businesses. We've doubled or tripled that number already just with businesses that have needed help and support in the earliest stages with finding financing through the PPP or other stimulus programs that have been tricky and challenging to navigate. So we have hundreds of businesses that we're working with. They're almost all small businesses. Many of them are retail, many of them are restaurants. Many of them have just kind of had their heads down working on building their business over the last several years. So figuring out this new, this new normal on these new parameters and these changing guidelines has been challenging for them. But they're resilient. And so what we've seen from a lot of them is every time the various guidelines come out, they're looking to try to figure out how they can adhere to them.

Speaker 4: 10:37 We have created with some partners and with them through the, the, the San Diego, um, small business development centers and some other partners, some handbooks that we can give out to small businesses who may not be part of an association who may not be part of the restaurant association or may not be part of a particular retail association. Just to make sure that they know what the County and city are requiring. They know what the guidelines from the state have said and we're trying to stay the course with them and have conversations with them throughout the process so that if they're running into a challenge, we can find the right partner or the right resource to connect them to. In the collaboration across the region and across associations and business groups right now is, is quite strong. Probably the strongest I've ever seen it.

Speaker 1: 11:20 And looking ahead, Mark, as more and more businesses begin to reopen, what does a successful economic recovery look like for San Diego?

Speaker 4: 11:29 I think it looks very different, Maureen, than the economy looked before. I think there are so many people working from home now, so the thought of you know, does, does everyone need to go back to an office or back to a work environment that they were in before is going to be challenged a bit. People are going to have to think very differently about that. Our team at ADC is small. There's all, there's less than 25 of us, but we're all working from home and I would say the team has been more effective and efficient than ever working from home and so it has us really thinking differently about our business model and our space. I think the second thing is we're going to see real shifts and changes in certain elements of the economy. Healthcare will probably take on a much more virtual field for a lot of people.

Speaker 4: 12:08 And that is probably something that's been needed for a while. But this crisis will push us in a direction where you'll see more of that telemedicine and telehealth work that I think we're starting to see so much of right now. But the thing that, that, that is, that is, um, the most concerning in a place like San Diego is tourism is a huge element of our economy. And it not only impacts the workers who are part of the tourism industry, it has a ripple effect throughout other elements of our economy that restaurants and retail that we spoke about earlier. But it also has an impact on the money that comes into cities so that those cities and municipalities can focus on hiring first responders and in maintaining a lot of the work they need to do for health and safety. So I think as a region, San Diego has always relied heavily on tourism.

Speaker 4: 12:52 We have a very diverse economy, but I think many of us need to focus on supporting those tourism efforts and putting a lot of our energy behind those tourism efforts to make sure that we're doing everything we can to help those businesses recover and get back on track knowing that that things are going to look very different for them. It's going to be look very different for large events, going to be look very different in hotels, but making sure that we're doing what we can to promote what that new normal looks like so that we continue to draw people into San Diego.

Speaker 1: 13:21 I've been speaking with Mark Cafferty, president and CEO of the San Diego regional economic development council. Mark, thanks a lot. Thanks a lot. Maureen.

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Maureen Cavanaugh and Jade Hindmon host KPBS Midday Edition, a daily radio news magazine keeping San Diego in the know on everything from politics to the arts.