San Diego County reported a case rate below 100 for the third straight day Friday, but the excitement surrounding its presumed departure from California's coronavirus watch list was halted when the state told the county it had to review its data before making things official.
"What does a county do when it gets off California's COVID watch list? No one knows because state guidelines haven't been set," San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer quipped on Twitter minutes after the county reported its state-calculated metric.
The county knew that falling off the state's watch list wouldn't open the doors for immediate rollbacks on public and commercial restrictions -- the only immediate impact coming off of the watch list has is starting a new 14-day case rate countdown that, if satisfied, will allow K-12 schools to reopen.
But now that the county's satisfaction of the case rate metric is confirmed, local leaders are applying pressure on Governor Gavin Newsom to put a framework for businesses and entities without a plan, like gyms, places of worship, non-essential office spaces, personal care services, higher education, and businesses limited to outdoor operation.
"This is critical, as the devastating health and economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic have forced millions of Californians into unemployment and thousands of small businesses to close. We are suffering from an unemployment rate of 14 percent in San Diego, with our highest unemployment rates disproportionately concentrated in largely Black and Latino communities," Faulconer and Cox's letter read in part.
The letter also placed emphasis on the state providing "sufficient detail in order to avoid a repeat of the opening and closing 'seesaw effect' that compounded hardships for many small businesses."
The letter also demanded the guidance be based on sound science.
Like Faulconer and Cox, local small business owners are anxious for state guidance so they can begin recovering losses.
“Its really hard to say what the expectations are going to be,” said Michael Pasulka, owner of Player’s Sports Grill in Poway.
Pasulka, on track to have his worst business week since the start of the pandemic, said business has dwindled to about 25% of what it was pre-pandemic.
“I don’t think there’s actually many businesses out there making money. It’s just a matter of how slowly you can lose money,” he said.
Once given the green light, Pasulka said he could reopen indoor operations within three hours, and he said he can do it safely, as was the case before getting shut down a second time.
“We followed the rules. Not a single member of our staff here has had any indication of being sick and nobody has tested positive. I think when it’s done right, as long as they’re not catching it outside, you’re safe in the restaurants,” said Pasulka.
But not everyone believes this is the right time to reopen.
“I think if we are taking this pandemic seriously, I think we should really hold off,” said registered nurse Laura Feinberg.
Feinberg, who works at Sharp Memorial, said she is still seeing the daily toll the virus is having at the hospital.
“Working in the hospital every day, seeing these really sick patients, patients dying and patients close to dying is very traumatic and very real. This is all of a huge concern to everyone in the hospital. We’re just waiting for things to reopen and more patients to come in,” she said.