A health care worker with Family Health Centers of San Diego stands ready to help patients at a coronavirus testing center in Chula Vista. / Photo by Adriana Heldiz

San Diego County’s coronavirus case rate is now high enough that the region will fall to the worst tier of the state’s reopening system if the high rate continues for another week.

In a presentation to the San Diego County Board of Supervisors Tuesday, Dr. Wilma Wooten said the county has a case rate of 7.9 cases per 100,000 people. If the county exceeds a 7.0 case rate next week, it will drop into the worst tier, the Union-Tribune reports.

The state’s worst tier — the dreaded purple tier — would allow only hair salons and barber shops to continue operating indoors at full capacity. Indoor retail would have to drop from 50 percent to 25 percent indoor operation. Indoor shopping centers could still operate at 25 percent capacity, but restaurants, houses of worship, museums and gyms would have to move all operations outdoors. Movie theaters would also have to stop indoor operations.

Wooten indicated the surge in cases at San Diego State University, which has accounted for more than 600 cases in the past three weeks, is a big reason why San Diego’s cases have worsened.

Without SDSU’s cases, the county’s case rate would be 6, solidly in the slightly better “red” tier.

Wooten said she asked the state to consider that fact when determining what tier to put San Diego County in. Residents should know by next Tuesday, when the state releases its next round of data, if San Diego County will be forced to shutter most indoor businesses again.

SDSU announced that it’s ramping up COVID-19 tests through what KUSI described as “a new random surveillance” program requiring “all students living on campus to be tested for the virus.”

Maybe just open and be legends: Supervisor Jim Desmond asked his four colleagues to pass a motion just to allow all businesses to open as they would please and promise them the county would not enforce the state orders. They declined and he called the vote devastating. 

Desmond could not get support even from Supervisor Kristin Gaspar, who often sees the crisis in the same light he does. She called his push symbolic. “It would not have changed a single thing for our local economy and instead would have put our businesses at increased risk of retribution from the state,” she wrote in a press release. 

She did urge the county to take out SDSU students from the statistics, and they’re going to send a letter to the state asking that the SDSU numbers not be included in the calculation of the county’s tier status. 

As you know, we’ve been trying to get outbreak data from the county through the courts. 

Turns out KPBS did manage to get similar data broken down by ZIP codes from El Cajon. It’s our first look at where the virus has been doing the most damage and moving. 

The ZIP code 92101, which includes the Gaslamp as well as Little Italy and the East Village, had at least 14 outbreaks through late July, more than any other ZIP code in the county, according to the KPBS analysis. Outbreaks are when three or more cases involving people who don’t live together can be traced back to one location.

More than a third of outbreaks during the pandemic’s first five months stemmed from locations in four ZIP codes. After 92101, the ZIP code 92109, which includes Pacific Beach and Mission Beach, had 11 outbreaks. The other two high-outbreak ZIP codes are in the South Bay, where more than 40 percent of the outbreaks appeared at food processing or manufacturing facilities.

KPBS is part of Voice of San Diego’s lawsuit against the county to obtain more detailed information about outbreaks. Reporter Tarryn Mento will join us Wednesday on VOSD at Home to talk about her story. 

San Diego Releases More Details on Hotel Purchases

The city announced Tuesday that the Housing Commission plans to use about $38 million in state Project Homekey funds to buy two hotels with 332 units to house homeless San Diegans now staying at the San Diego Convention Center. The Housing Commission is set to vote this Friday on the proposal to buy Residence Inn hotels in Mission Valley and Kearny Mesa. The City Council is expected to weigh in next month.

The Project Homekey initiative is the second phase of Gov. Gavin Newsom’s Project Roomkey initiative, which aimed to temporarily shelter thousands of vulnerable homeless Californians during the coronavirus pandemic with the help of Federal Emergency Management Administration funds.

As Andrew Keatts has reported, Mayor Kevin Faulconer and the Housing Commission advocated for state and federal officials to support hotel purchases to house homeless people after the city converted the Convention Center into a shelter. The Housing Commission also included $19 million in its annual budget to help acquire the hotels and another $10 million to support rental assistance at the properties.

The county later pledged $5.4 million to provide supportive services to residents at the hotel properties.

Faulconer and Housing Commission officials see the proposed purchases as a chance to make a major impact on the city’s homelessness crisis.

“These properties present a unique opportunity to bring together the city, county and state and utilize the San Diego Housing Commission’s successful track record with these types of properties to quickly provide permanent rental homes that are a path off the streets and out of shelters for hundreds of San Diegans,” Housing Commission CEO Rick Gentry wrote in a statement.

County Supervisors Endorse Prop. 20

San Diego County also threw its support Tuesday behind a November ballot measure that asks Californians to undo several criminal justice reforms passed by voters over the last decade.

Proposition 20 would allow prosecutors to charge certain non-violent offenses as a felony and would establish new types of crimes, making it harder for those people to qualify for early release. It would also mandate DNA collection for certain misdemeanor offenses, including theft and drug offenses.

Funding for the initiative has come largely from law enforcement groups and major grocery store chains. The county’s deputy district attorneys chipped in $1,000. Sempra Energy gave $10,000 to an account controlled by Assemblyman Jim Cooper, a former Sacramento County sheriff’s captain and leading proponent of Prop. 20.

Arguing in its favor Tuesday, Supervisor Desmond said Prop. 20 would fix “unintended consequences” in the previous reforms and help link crimes together with DNA. Supervisor Dianne Jacob said, “Unfortunately many of the low-level offenses are in the best interest of criminals and it’s being placed above the interests of victims right now.”

The final vote was 4-1 with Supervisor Nathan Fletcher opposed.

Statewide, the No on Prop. 20 campaign is being funded by wealthy individuals and the ACLU, which argues that law enforcement groups are scaring people into thinking the state needs more incarceration at a time of historically low crime rates. 

In the meantime: Jamie Wilson, an organizer with Pillars of the Community, an advocacy group in southeastern San Diego, argues that it’s time to abolish civil gang injunctions, which put rules and restrictions on men, women and children who sometimes have no criminal records.

“People still remain on the injunctions today without so much as a misdemeanor,” she writes. “It’s hard to believe that these injunctions were meant for healing and not incarceration.”

Los Angeles County and others have stopped using the injunctions. 

San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan announced in March that she’d removed hundreds of people from the list, mostly because they lacked “gang or criminal activity,” City News Service reported, while the rest were in prison, dead or residing somewhere else. 

This also happened: City News Service reports that a former sheriff’s captain pleaded guilty to trafficking “off-roster” firearms, which can only be sold legally to members of law enforcement, to potential donors in anticipation for his run for sheriff. Federal prosecutors said he acquired 144 guns between 2013 and 2019 and transferred 98 of them to others. 

In Other News

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

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