We won’t be 100% “back to normal,” but come June 15 things in San Diego County and across the entire state of California are going to look and feel as close to normal as they’ve been in 15 months.
The state unveiled a sweeping new plan headlined by the ends of the color-coded tier system and the mask mandate by June 15, but looking ahead, the changes may be easier said than done.
No tier system means that by mid-June, most businesses will be able to operate without limits on capacity. It also means that many companies will be giving their employees the all clear to return to work.
Two of the biggest questions about what this will all really look like is how will businesses and workers make the changes? And how will workers who have families keep the balance?
In preparation of the laid back rules, California’s workforce regulators are working on their own safety rules to apply to employees. One thing is clear, though: San Diego County is in dire need of employees.
The San Diego Workforce Partnership just released new hire numbers in the leisure and hospitality industries, and the numbers are sagging.
A lot of places are having trouble filling open positions, and the staffing shortage is becoming a more urgent problem in places like Little Italy.
That’s because even with restrictions still in place, dining destination spots like Little Italy have no shortage of customers.
“We need help. I'll tell you, we need help. Desperate help,” Palo Tagliani of restaurant Solunto said.
When indoor dining was shut down, Tagliani expanded into the street with a Pavilion-like outdoor setting. Now he finds himself imposing his own capacity limits so that his kitchen doesn’t become overwhelmed.
“We’re calling everybody, like friends of friends, like friends of people who work here,” Tagliani said.
Next door at Davanti Enoteca, instead of showing the menu a sign out front says “We are issuing weekly stimulus checks, see manager.”
The general manager says it's supposed to be motivation.
“Looks like they would like to return to their job, but at this point as long as they are getting more money from federal government, I don't blame them,” he said.
“Despite staff shortages, visitors we spoke with here in Little Italy say they haven’t experienced a decline in service quality or attitude among those that are working."
If the pandemic unemployment bonus is in fact one of the reasons people are not returning to work, lifting state restrictions by June 15 could pose some problems. Pandemic unemployment assistance won't run out until September.
“If we have to do like June, July and August in this condition it's going to be tough," Tagliani said.
On the other hand, Tagliani said some of his employees are signing up for double shifts.
Some states have already eliminated the extra unemployment assistance to try to get people back to work, but some experts think those benefits might not be what's keeping everyone from getting back to work. Some people may still worry there will be another spike in cases, and others might still be struggling to find child care for their kids.
Many daycare businesses had to shut down because of the pandemic, or they’re slowly ramping back up to full capacity.
Ask any parent and they’ll tell you help was already expensive and hard to find. Now as more head back into the office, daycare providers say it’s taking more organization and focus on kids health to stay successful.
“I had to find somewhere to put [my son] because I had to go back full-time,” mother Lindsey Roberts said. “It’s hard to work at home with your kids.”
It’s a routine more and more parents are breaking from as the easing of state COVID guidelines brings them back into the office.
Caifornia is slated to fully reopen its economy on the same day San Diego County schools end their years. As more parents seek childcare, providers are struggling to keep up with demand.
Aung Ong and Pyone Thet are a married couple running San Diego Brighter Daycare from their home.
“Last year, as soon as everything closed down our business reduced by 50%,” Og said. “Around March, the business picked up. We’re almost back to full house.”
The couple employs one person and cares for 6 to 8 children depending on the day. Per state law their capacity is 14 kids and they say space is quickly filling up.
“This year as people get vaccinated and things are starting to open back up, we receive tons of calls,” Ong said, adding that parents should call sooner rather than later if they’re looking for childcare.
And now that business is picking up, Ong says the industry faces a new post-pandemic challenge.
‘We also have to keep the facility extra clean,” he said. “When they come in we take temperatures, we measure their oxygen. Just additional work we have to do to make sure children are safe.”
The pair takes their role so seriously because of how the pandemic has impacted them personally, Ong said.
“Uncle Johnson and Uncle Joel passed away in May from COVID,” he said. “COVID-19 affected not only me and my family, but my extended family. This is real.”
Some of the shortages may ease over the next several months as more providers enter the market or increase capacity.
The California Child Care Resource and Referral Network said 70% of San Diego families with children have two working parents in need of child care and only 30% of those children in the county who need a spot actually land one.