Crowne Plaza San Diego – Mission Valley is among the hotels in San Diego County that have agreed to temporarily house and isolate people in need during the coronavirus pandemic. / Photo by Lisa Halverstadt
Crowne Plaza San Diego – Mission Valley is among the hotels in San Diego County that have agreed to temporarily house and isolate people in need during the coronavirus pandemic. / Photo by Lisa Halverstadt

County officials have rushed to secure hundreds of motel rooms they describe as crucial emergency resources as they respond to the exploding coronavirus pandemic.

In just weeks, the county has amassed more than 2,000 rooms for people who may have coronavirus and for homeless San Diegans considered particularly vulnerable to the health threat.

Supervisor Nathan Fletcher and others have described these rooms as a crucial tool meant to reduce the burden on hospitals, but little has been known about them — and specifically how individuals can access them — despite regular county updates on the number of rooms it has secured.

Lisa Halverstadt dug into how the rooms are currently operating, efforts to place people into rooms for both potential coronavirus patients and homeless San Diegans and the significant resources the county is pouring into its rapid-fire hotel contracts.

At a Wednesday press conference, county officials emphasized the importance of local efforts to stem the spread of coronavirus this month and announced that the local death toll has hit 15.

“We absolutely and unequivocally believe the month of April is the month that will determine our trajectory as a region,” Fletcher said. 

Fletcher encouraged San Diegans to follow county directives to help the region avoid the boom in cases that New York City and Italy have experienced. He also said the county is working with law enforcement to ensure those who don’t follow social distancing or shutter their operations as required face consequences.

San Diego’s Newest Homeless Shelter: The Convention Center

The city of San Diego is turning the Convention Center into a temporary homeless shelter in an effort to stop the spread of the coronavirus. / Photo by Adriana Heldiz

It’s official: San Diego’s Convention Center is now a massive homeless shelter.

Homeless San Diegans staying in nonprofit Alpha Project’s two bridge shelters moved into the Convention Center on Wednesday, a development that would have been unthinkable just a month ago as Mayor Kevin Faulconer and others rallied behind a ballot measure meant to fund a Convention Center expansion.

Faulconer and other regional leaders said residents of the city’s other shelters will be next to move into the Convention Center to help implement social distancing standards. The center is expected to begin welcoming those now staying on the streets after hundreds of shelter residents move in.

Faulconer said he expects the facility to eventually temporarily house at least 1,500 homeless San Diegans.

Faulconer and Fletcher said both the city and the county would be helping fund the Convention Center operation. 

In a separate press conference on Wednesday, Faulconer announced that he had issued a directive to make all city-owned properties – from libraries to parking lots – available to help with the coronavirus response.

“I’m doing this in anticipation and expectation that our hospitals will need all the help that our community can offer,” Faulconer said.

Lifeguards, Fire Officials Reignite Old Tensions

The pandemic is also reigniting tensions between San Diego’s lifeguards and the officials who oversee the Fire-Rescue Department. 

In a letter to the City Council, the union that represents the lifeguards argued that the department’s management wasn’t acting aggressively enough to stop the spread of the virus within their ranks. Four lifeguards have tested positive in recent days for COVID 19, more than other emergency response personnel. 

The department last week changed its rules around quarantining employees. It decided to stop pulling lifeguards and firefighters out of rotation who had been exposed to known COVID-19 patients but didn’t display any symptoms themselves. 

Fire Chief Colin Stoward told Jesse Marx that the department couldn’t afford to sideline a large number of emergency responders during an emergency. 

  • In an op-ed, a San Diego resident and retired lifeguard argues that both the county and the media should extract and publish data on hospitalizations, intensive care admissions and deaths as a better barometer on how containment efforts are going. Reporting positive test results offers little insight, he writes.
  • Two SDPD officers have tested positive for COVID-19. “This is out of 2,600 & public health dept has full confidence in SDPD and their healthcare team to maintain their force,” the county tweeted. An SDPD spokesman confirmed that one of those officers has been cleared by a doctor to go back to work. 

Officials Growing Concerned About Inconsistent Beach Access

A surfer at Oceanside’s Harbor Beach / Photo by Adriana Heldiz
A surfer at Oceanside’s Harbor Beach / Photo by Adriana Heldiz

In the North County Report, Kayla Jimenez breaks down inconsistencies in the beach access across the region. Oceanside is still keeping its parks and beaches open, but police and lifeguards are monitoring in the meantime and telling people not to have large gatherings.

Officials from neighboring cities are concerned about mixed messaging and residents expressed worry that the public will just go to the next beach spot that remains open and crowd there. 

Carlsbad closed its beaches earlier this month, but a large portion of the beaches in the city are owned by the state so some of them remain open. 

In South Bay, Coronado is closing its beaches on weekends, and the U-T reports that Imperial Beach is considering emergency fiscal measures to offset economic impacts of the pandemic. That includes holding off on some construction projects and implementing a hiring freeze. 

Here’s a potential bright spot, though: The county experienced a significant drop in weekly reported flu cases. That suggests the current social distancing campaign around COVID-19 is working, the U-T reports. The medical director of the county’s epidemiology and immunization services branch said he was cautious about drawing a conclusion based on a single data point.

In Other News

  • Staff at three East County migrant shelters told NBC 7 they fear the spread of COVID-19 inside their youth facilities and don’t believe Southwest Key Programs is taking proper precautions to protect youth and staff.
  • Almost 3,000 sailors are poised to evacuate a San Diego-based aircraft carrier after 93 crew members tested positive for COVID-19. (Union-Tribune)
  • A senior-living home near San Diego State University is fast becoming a focal point in the region’s response. Public health officials are testing and monitoring staff and residents after six people tested positive. (Union-Tribune) 
  • UC San Diego may open its dorms to patients as the pandemic tests the capacity of the health care system. (inewsource) 
  • San Diego delayed the deadline to submit November ballot measures. (Union-Tribune) 
  • Santee declared a moratorium on evictions and unlike other jurisdictions, set no end date. (Union-Tribune) 
  • And finally, City Councilman Mark Kersey is, uh, making dope plans for the future.

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

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