Will San Diego County be the New Rhode Island?

Joel Fox
Editor and Co-Publisher of Fox and Hounds Daily

When I first looked at the county rankings under Gov. Gavin Newsom’s four tier standards to open the economy safely, I had to wonder if in Southern California San Diego County would become the new Rhode Island.

You will recall that Rhode Island put up barriers to travelers from other states that were labeled Covid-19 hotspots. In March, Rhode Island had state troopers turning back cars with New York license plates at the state line and demanded that other travelers from hotspots quarantine for two weeks. More recently, the tables were turned on Rhode Island when residents of that state faced two-week quarantine orders if they visited New York or Massachusetts.

San Diego County fell into the category of Substantial, or Tier 2, under the governor’s new paradigm to determine which counties could open businesses safely, meaning that some indoor business operations will be open staring today. Tier 1 is considered the highest risk counties for the disease spread. However, San Diego County is surrounded by the rest of Southern California where all the other counties are labeled Widespread, Tier 1. The four tiers are rated Widespread, Substantial, Moderate and Minimal determined statistically by the number of new cases per a hundred-thousand residents and the percentage of positive tests. The standards and numbers can be found on the state’s Covid-19 website here.

It is probable that frustrated residents of those hard-hit Widespread counties might like the chance to eat inside a restaurant or attend a movie theater. All such sites must meet the requirements for safe opening and social distancing, which means only 25% capacity for restaurants and movie theaters at the Tier 2, Substantial, level. As this is written, only San Diego County qualifies in Southern California and outside residents are probably already planning a weekend there.

San Diego officials should get nervous if a flood of visitors comes from the Widespread locations. Do county officials set up stops at its borders with officers holding thermometers? Seems undoable, but the officials saw what happened in the east. A slew of infected individuals, especially asymptomatic, could drive up the San Diego numbers quickly and throw the county back into the Widespread category.

Meanwhile, all of California’s counties are trying to understand the details of this new state Blueprint for a Safer Economy. The California State Association of Counties issued a statement on Friday which expressed frustration that the counties don’t have a full clarification from the state on the safe opening directive so that they may respond to many expected inquiries from residents.

The object of the new standards is expressed in the title, a safe economy. It is a must to get the economy to function as fully as possible and as soon as possible. The Blueprint offered an idea on how long the process might take. 

Counties must wait 21-days to move up to the next tier. That includes a period of two consecutive weeks in meeting the standards required of the next tier. Since most California counties, 38 of 58, are at Tier 1 now, assuming no hiccups that a county would slide back under the required numbers and need to start the two-week re-opening metric again, we are looking at a minimum of two months before the Widespread Tier 1 counties can hit the Tier 4 status. Likely, it will take much longer because the disease tracking has been tricky, and we have already witnessed an ebb and flow in the percentage of those affected by the disease.

The California Business Roundtable in a statement responding to the governor’s new plan expressed a pessimistic tone, claiming the state’s businesses won’t reach a sustainable level until the spring of 2021. The CBRT statement raised the specter of “permanent job loss” with a slow reopening combined with no legislative help for businesses to deal with the coronavirus crisis.

If the reopening of the economy drags on there will be difficult situations the governor, legislature and all Californians face. A weakened economy means less revenue for the government to operate and fewer funds for individuals to go about their daily lives. The recent difficult debate over eviction notices and how to help both strapped renters and landlords would be considerably eased with an improved economy and people going back to work, earning a living. 

The quicker the economy gets up and running the better for all of us.

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