San Diego County Public Health Officer Wilma Wooten speaks at a press conference about the coronavirus pandemic. / Photo by Adriana Heldiz

The vast quantity of official metrics used to track the spread of coronavirus is head spinning. There’s the number of new cases, percent of positive tests, hospitilization rate, ICU beds, doubling rate and so many others. 

Each metric is supposed to tell us something about when it’s safe to reopen. But now, local public health officials are re-evaluating one metric that they previously said had been central to determining the severity of the coronavirus outbreak, reports Will Huntsberry.  

The metric measures how many community outbreaks have occurred within the past seven days. More than seven outbreaks in seven days is very bad, officials determined in June. Now it appears the figure may have been set too low. 

“We didn’t have a crystal ball” when we set the threshold, said Dr. Wilma Wooten, the county’s chief public health officer. “We have asked the state, as well as some of our researchers locally … to determine if there is a better number to use.” 

The county has 13 triggers that can send the county back into a state of lockdown. It chose to make the number of community outbreaks one of its three biggest triggers, out of the 13.

The metric isn’t just used by the county. It’s also been adopted by San Diego Unified School District as one of the metrics that will decide when it is safe to reopen schools. 

Currently, all of the school district’s triggers indicate it is safe to begin reopening schools – except for the community outbreaks trigger. 

City Passes Measure to Help Laid-Off Hotel Workers

An ordinance that will require hotels to give workers who were laid off because of the pandemic priority when they hire staff back passed the San Diego City Council Tuesday.

“Council’s action to approve my Emergency Recall and Retention Ordinance will ensure the most experienced San Diegans, in our most critical sectors, are rehired first to promote efficiency and safety as we re-open and rebuild our economy,” said Councilman Chris Ward in a statement.

The ordinance will require that hotels of 200 rooms or more give laid-off employees a chance to apply for positions as they open up before extending offers to others. It also requires that hotels hire back based on seniority and if they don’t, that they provide a written explanation. The emergency ordinance takes effect immediately and will remain in effect for six months from the effective date, or as of Jan. 1, 2021 if AB 3216, a state bill that includes similar provisions is signed into law.

Councilman Mark Kersey, who ultimately voted yes, proposed three amendments that were incorporated into the ordinance. The first change increased the size of the hotels that would fall under the ordinance. The second shortened the amount of time laid-off employees have to decide whether they want to come back. The final amendment will have the city’s ordinance sunset if AB 3216 goes into effect at the state level.

Republican Councilmen Chris Cate and Scott Sherman both voted no.

“Flexibility and business expertise is needed to save the industry from unprecedented declines in tourism due to COVID-19,” Sherman wrote in a statement. “Instead of supporting this vital sector, the City Council has attached a heavy bureaucratic anchor around the necks of the hotel industry. This heavy-handed ordinance drafted by union bosses could result in the closure of several hotels already struggling to survive.”

Activist Group (Again) Calls on City to Pause Smart Streetlights

Tech and civil rights activists with the Trust SD Coalition called on city officials to reject a new proposal giving police exclusive access to the smart streetlight cameras.

The City Council agreed in 2016 to roll out a network of sensors that could count cars and measure air quality. Yet the environmental and mobility data never worked quite right. The devices became tools of law enforcement, without the public’s knowledge. Council members weren’t made aware until months after investigators began tapping into the network.

Mayor Kevin Faulconer now wants to make the evolution of the program official. He’s asking the Public Safety and Livable Neighborhoods Committee on Wednesday to approve a new four-year contract with the Florida-based company that owns the underlying technology.

To pay for it, Faulconer is proposing that officials pull $6.1 million worth of public safety funds during that time frame. He also wants to set aside another $771,000 of Community Parking District funds to pay for costs the city still owes from last year — the legality of which is not clear. (Parking funds can only be used in limited circumstances and the Council has already expressed resistance to using this source of financing for the streetlights.)

A staff report for the committee meeting also notes that 1,000 of the sensors purchased with federal anti-poverty dollars are now in storage and the city is trying to return them for either credit or “other equipment.”

Just as they did one year ago, activists are now urging elected officials to turn off the streetlights and first create rules and meaningful forms of oversight before resuming the conversation. They’ve championed a surveillance ordinance and the establishment of a privacy advisory commission that would vet technology and its impacts before being considered by the City Council. 

In Other News

The Morning Report was written by Will Huntsberry, Maya Srikrishnan and Jesse Marx, and edited by Sara Libby.

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