Change of Heart: County Public Health Officer Will Now Work With Casinos

Dr. Wilma Wooten acknowledges tribal sovereignty a day after calling plans to reopen casinos a public health risk

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A day after the criticizing reopening plans of several local casinos, the San Diego County Public Health Officer said she will now work with tribal leaders to implement safe reopening plans.

On Wednesday, Dr. Wilma Wooten said she would seek federal guidance on how to prevent the casinos from reopening.

“We are very concerned and we want to make it perfectly clear that we do not agree with opening of casinos on May 18,” Wooten said.

The comment drew strong and immediate reaction from one tribal executive.

“It is unfortunate the public health officer chose a press conference to share her concerns, as we informed her of our robust our robust plan nearly a week ago and we have yet to hear a response from her office,” said Adam Day, Chief Administrative Officer at Sycuan.

Day also took issue with “any legal interpretation that allows the county any jurisdiction over activities on a tribal reservation.” 

On Thursday, Dr. Wooten took on a much different tone. She said she met with tribal leaders and several submitted reopening plans.

“I will be reviewing those plans today as they are planning a phased-in approach, and these approaches align with current state phases,” Wooten said.

Both Wooten and County Supervisor Nathan Fletcher both acknowledged the tribes’ sovereign authority.

“It is very clear to us that tribal nations have sovereign authority. And it is also very clear that the county and tribes share a mutual interest in protecting the community,” Wooten said.

“I respect their sovereignty, I respect this is your decision to make, and I appreciate the effort and energy they're expending to coordinate that, share those plans with public health officers and seek input as they move forward which is their choice to make,” Fletcher said.

Meanwhile Sycuan updated it’s earlier statement, saying health and safety remain the number one priority.

“Public health and safety has always been and continues to be our number one priority. We look forward to working cooperatively with all levels of government as we have the last 36 years - federal, state and county. And we are highly confident in our carefully designed robust health and safety plan to slowly reopen our facility in phases,” said Day.

Three San Diego County casinos plan to reopen starting Monday. Others have yet to formally announce reopening plans.

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