San Diego County public health officials on Monday outlined the steps municipalities will need to take to ease restrictions under a public health order meant to slow the spread of COVID-19. Hours later, the city of San Diego reopened some neighborhood parks.
The public health order that restricted gatherings, closed hundreds of non-essential businesses and created social distancing rules for those that remain open is in effect through April 30. But County Supervisor Nathan Fletcher on Monday said the goal is to work with cities and businesses over the next few weeks to create plans for a slow reopening.
Hours later, the city of San Diego was the first to announce an easing of some restrictions. Mayor Kevin Faulconer said, after coordinating with the county, neighborhood parks would be reopened starting Tuesday but with some limitations: to use the public spaces, residents must maintain social distance and only participate in individual, passive activities like walking or jogging, Faulconer said. Face coverings are not required but recommended.
Parking lots, playgrounds, and recreational grounds like basketball courts and soccer fields in the city of San Diego will remain closed, the mayor said.
Beaches will not yet reopen, but Faulconer said he was working with other coastal mayors and the county of San Diego to develop a plan that could reopen beaches in the coming weeks. County leaders confirmed they were working with local jurisdictions to ease restrictions on water sports like surfing, swimming and paddleboarding.
"Our cities will be prepared to open beaches and the bays as soon as the county authorizes the water access, which could be by the end of the month as you heard today in the county briefing," Faulconer said.
Other municipalities were urged to develop their own plans that can be presented to the county and put in place once some requirements to the public health order are lessened.
Public Health Officer Wilma Wooten said the plans would not be put in place until all the criteria of President Donald Trump's "Opening Up America" plan were met. For example, the county must see a downward trajectory of the percentage of positive tests over 14 days, a trend that San Diego County is on track with.
"This is indeed encouraging and I hope you feel that way as well," Wooten said.
Supervisor Greg Cox said that the efforts to ease the public health order relies on county residents adhering to the rules -- social distancing, avoiding gatherings, staying at home -- through at least the end of the month. The public health order can be extended if the coronavirus crisis does not improve in San Diego.
"Give us ten more days. Give us an opportunity to take the month of April to get this disease, this pandemic, under control in San Diego County,” Cox said.
Fletcher said the steps the county must take before easing the order include:
- Developing a plan for testing, contact tracing and isolation
- Developing clear metrics for moving the dial of cases
- Developing a phasing plan for businesses, mass gatherings and other items that need the approval of the state
The county asks jurisdictions to develop their own plans to reopen beaches, parks and trails.
Cities must currently adhere to the public health order, which restricts activities to passive recreation, forces parking lots and playgrounds to close and requires social distancing among citizens.
But jurisdictions can ease those orders if they present park-specific plans to the county that meet the following criteria:
- Limits gatherings to no more than household units in close proximity to one another
- To a practical extent, enforces the use of facial coverings
- Ensures physical distancing
- Restricts parking to half capacity
- Contains cleaning protocols for public restrooms
- Includes onsite staff or security at each location
- Play equipment and recreation centers remain closed
- Does not allow organized team practices, but members of a household can participate in activities together
The statewide "stay-at-home" order first went into effect on March 19 and the following week, California Gov. Gavin Newsom added restrictions on beaches and trails.
County health officials then ordered parking lots at all beaches, parks and trails to close -- but it was up to each jurisdiction to close access to the beach if officials did not feel like the public could adhere to social distancing and other requirements.
The city of San Diego ordered the closure of its beaches, parks, boardwalks and other open spaces on March 23 and other cities followed suit.