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County approves framework for opening businesses, OKs childcare vouchers for essential workers

05/05/20

Read the full article by Charles T. Clark, Morgan Cook, and Paul Sisson on the San Diego Union-Tribune here.

San Diego County supervisors unanimously voted Tuesday to adopt a framework that will allow local businesses to reopen once public health restrictions are lifted.

The board also approved a proposal to provide $5 million worth of childcare vouchers for essential workers and vulnerable populations in the region, if the city of San Diego matches the contribution.

The childcare vouchers, which will be funded by money the county received from the federal CARES Act, will go to families who are deemed eligible under the statewide California Alternative Payment Program, also known as CAPP.

Among those eligible individuals are children from at-risk populations, families with children with disabilities, and children of essential workers working in health care, food and agriculture, education, among others.

The county’s  Reopen San Diego Business Safety Framework, developed by the Responsible COVID-19 Economic Reopening Advisory Group and supported by unanimous vote at Tuesday’s meeting, lays out guidelines all businesses will need to follow in order to welcome customers again when the state loosens restrictions on business operations beginning Friday.

The guidelines, which have been in development since mid-April by a coalition of more than 30 local business and civic leaders, focus on five areas: employee health, safe work site entry, physical distancing in the workplace, enhanced cleaning and sanitation and employee training.

Supervisors also voted Tuesday to send the reopening plan to Gov. Gavin Newsom along with an official request for the county to be given formal control to make economic and other decisions related to the COVID-19 pandemic in San Diego County.

Under the framework approved by the board Tuesday, businesses will need to develop a sanitation plan with frequent cleaning of public spaces and workstations, make sure employees are provided with personal protective equipment, establish controlled entrance and exit practices to avoid clustering and line issues, and ensure that employees are maintaining proper physical distancing, among other things.

Supervisor Nathan Fletcher, who co-chairs the county’s COVID-19 subcommittee alongside Cox, said the reopening framework is intended to give general guidance and direction to businesses, but is also designed in a way that allows the region to adapt as things change.

“There could be additional guidance from the state or the federal government about what conditions should look like as we move forward and we will no doubt get additional guidance from businesses about tweaks,” Fletcher said. “But this is a good starting point.”

Testing is a tentpole feature of the governor’s five-item list of requirements for individual counties to move forward with the various phases of reopening. Being able to quickly test anyone with symptoms and both interview and test all of their closest contacts very quickly is seen as the key to keeping the virus from beginning to spread rapidly once social distancing orders are relaxed.

Last week, the county said it expects to identify about 400 new possible infections per day which would likely create the need to do about 1,200 “contact tracing” interviews daily, a task that would mean the county’s pool of tracers would need to swell to about 450 and the county would need to be able to perform about 5,200 coronavirus tests daily.

But Fletcher delivered a report Tuesday that the total number of full-time-equivalent contact tracers hired to date is just 160. Daily testing, as of May 4, remained just 2,306.

“We ask all San Diegans to continue to be patient as the kinks get worked out both with the web site and signing up, and with the execution of how these tests are operating,” Fletcher said.