Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the Gary and Mary West Senior Wellness Center required all visitors to wash their hands before receiving their free meals. / Photo by Adriana Heldiz

San Diego’s vibrant economy and culture is slowing down as more people test positive for the coronavirus, officials ban large gatherings and major institutions shut down. Closures of public facilities and changes to services will drastically change the daily lives of the region’s most vulnerable populations. 

Kayla Jimenez lays out these potential disruptions in a new story. The homeless, for instance, rely on public libraries for computers and shelter during the day, but libraries — along with recreational parks and pools — are closed until April 6. 

The county’s benefits and health offices are also evaluating whether certain essential services should remain open. Seniors and others rely on the county’s health and benefits offices for food assistance and health services.

Nonprofits that run assistance programs are pressing ahead. One of the largest meal providers is reducing its services but keeping its facilities open over the county’s concerns for safety. Its CEO said his organization is taking precautions but operating in “uncharted waters.”

To help stem the spread of the virus, nearly all public schools across San Diego will close Monday. Will Huntsberry reports that school districts are now having to come up with detailed and unprecedented plans that address everything from online learning to health and hunger.

San Diego schools are also expected — for now — to re-open April 6. 

The Economy Is Slowing Down

Andrew Keatts has been collecting information from public data sets and looking for behavioral changes that might spell trouble for local budgets and public services. He rounded up some of those numbers Friday.

The Convention Center has taken an immediate hit. Thirteen events have been cancelled through May, which accounts for an estimated $115 million in lost spending and a lost regional economic impact estimated at more than $196 million.

Hotel occupancy is down 10 percent from one year ago, according to the Tourism Authority. That’s significant because the tourism industry is a major employer in San Diego and hotel taxes make up 8 percent of the city’s general fund, which pays for basic services.

It’s too soon to say how other agencies will be affected, because the numbers aren’t available, but there’s early evidence that commerce at the border has taken a serious hit. A severe decline in ridership at the Metropolitan Transit System might also force the agency to cut back.

The Union-Tribune reports that major cruise lines are halting voyages for a month. That translates to lost economic impact of more than $25 million locally. Sports columnist Tom Krasovic writes that the Padres may be able to weather the financial loss if games get canceled but other sports teams in San Diego are going to really feel the pressure

Let’s not forget about workers: Not everyone has the luxury of working remotely, or taking time off. Grocery stores have been especially slammed. 

A Vons employee told the U-T that although the company is providing sanitizer and cleaning supplies, she’s worried about becoming a carrier of the virus herself. After 12-hour shifts, she said, her co-workers are at their limits. She said a young colleague recently broke down and cried.

How City and County Leaders Responded

Mayor Kevin Faulconer, County Public Health Officer Wilma Wooten and El Cajon Mayor Bill Wells appeared on megachurch Rock Church’s online service Sunday morning to provide updates on coronavirus.

Pastor Miles McPherson noted they were sitting six feet apart from one another to follow a mandate Wooten issued last week. Wooten acknowledged that more significant measures are likely and that the county is in the early stages of its response.

“It really could end up in shutting down the cities as Italy has done,” Wooten said, “We may get there.”

Faulconer emphasized the need for San Diegans to remain calm and take precautions as the region’s coronavirus response escalates.

“We have been through emergencies in this city and this region. We have gotten through them,” Faulconer said. “We are going to get through this.”

We also confirmed Sunday that the county has secured 225 motel rooms that can be used to shelter people, particularly those who are homeless, who are in quarantine or awaiting test results. A spokesman could not immediately say whether any of those motel rooms are now occupied or how they had been funded, but the county is working to secure more. 

Life Under the Shadow of COVID-19 Comes at You Fast

More people have tested positive, including a Marine, a sailor, a student, a parent, a retirement home employee, a North County Fire employee and a pair of UCSD Health workers

Chula Vista City Councilman Steve Padilla announced on Twitter that he, too, had tested positive. He said he’s feeling fine and continuing to work while he isolates at home. County health officials are following up with people he’s recently been in contact with. 

Scripps Health is urging people with symptoms to call their nurse hotline before visiting a facility, City News Service reports. 

One day after Padilla’s announcement, a spokeswoman for Chula Vista said all city operations, except for its public safety services, would be suspended Monday and Tuesday. The City Council meeting is still scheduled, but officials are encouraging members of the public to contribute comments electronically. 

As arts, cultural and sports cancellations grow, KPBS is keeping a list. Gov. Gavin Newsom encouraged people over the age of 65 to isolate themselves from others and told neighborhood bars and pubs to close their doors, the Los Angeles Times reports. Not everyone is heeding that call. Karl Strauss Brewing announced online that it’s staying open.

State officials are also asking movie theaters, casinos and theme parks to limit attendees and ensure people keep appropriate social distance.

KPBS reports that local courts are staying open in the meantime, but visitations at federal prisons and immigration centers are temporarily halted

The Week in Elections and Laws

  • City Councilman Mark Kersey and Democratic political consultant Eva Posner came into the podcast studio for some post-election analysis. They talked about a bunch of races and the possibility of a Dem-on-Dem mayoral race in November. Kersey, an independent, said he was surprised by how mean the party has been to Barbara Bry. 
  • Bry is still in third place but she’s slowly closing the gap on Scott Sherman as the final ballots are tallied. For the Politics Report, Scott Lewis caught up with Bry’s consultant about what he’s expecting and how the campaign went. 
  • In the Sacramento Report, Sara Libby writes that two San Diego lawmakers are helping lead a push to repeal a 1996 initiative championed by former mayor Pete Wilson. It banned the consideration of race, gender and ethnicity in college admissions, government hiring and contracting.
  • And U-T columnist Michael Smolens considers proposals to assist the homeless. San Diego is shifting its focus from a plan to tax tourists to one that would raise property taxes on local residents for the construction of affordable housing.

In Other News

  • San Diego’s annual pension payments are going up, making it even harder to close a projected deficit. The city’s auditor said the increased payments were necessary because of recent employee raises, a significant portion of which went to police. (Union-Tribune) 
  • Scripps Ranch residents are suing to stop an apartment complex that’ll set aside 20 percent of the units for low-income people. (Union-Tribune) 

The Morning Report was written by Jesse Marx, and edited by Sara Libby.

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