With the number of coronavirus cases skyrocketing, it seemed only a matter of time before San Diego County renewed some restrictions as states and communities have done elsewhere.
Long before this week’s attempt to close some bars again, a battle raged on the district’s supervisory body to further open up the economy and public activities amid the pandemic.
For weeks, Supervisor Nathan Fletcher, who supports a cautious approach to lifting restrictions, has spoken orally with Supervisors Kristin Gaspar and Jim Desmond, among the loudest voices calling on the county and Governor Gavin Newsom to speed up the regulations loosen.
Much of the disagreement carried over from their meetings to social media. Ahead of the lawyer restrictions that went into effect on Wednesday, recent developments have re-fueled their dispute.
The board voted last Tuesday to seek guidance from Newsom to expedite the reopening, including restarting youth sports competitions – something Gaspar in particular endorsed. Fletcher, the only Democrat on the board and a close ally of the governor, was at the short end of the 4-1 vote.
Meanwhile, the number of positive cases in the county has increased, as have hospital admissions for COVID-19.
Then a handful of states rushing to reopen, including Texas and Florida, again banned local bar drinking, along with other restrictions.
Newsom followed suit on Sunday, placing similar orders for bars in seven counties, including Los Angeles, and calling on another group of counties to take action themselves.
San Diego was not on either list, but district officials said Monday that the continued spread of the coronavirus had met certain “triggers” that require action. Bars that don’t sell groceries are forced to close, while those that sell groceries and alcohol have been tightened.
After the board last week voted in favor of an appeal to the state for expedited reopenings, Fletcher issued a press release criticizing the “Desmond / Gaspar reopening efforts”. He pointed to the growing number of cases and said the board was going in the wrong direction.
“In light of these facts, it is ruthless and irresponsible to propose the accelerated reopening of additional indoor close contact group gatherings without limiting the number of attendees,” he said in the press release.
He made no mention of superiors Greg Cox and Dianne Jacob, who supported the move this time around but worked for Fletcher to expedite the reopening in the spring.
While looking for support for the reopening of youth sport on Thursday on Twitter, Gaspar highlighted Fletcher.
“SPORTS FAMILIES! County Sups voted 4-1 (Fletcher opposed) to ask Gov to return to safe play. I love hearing about your children’s joy when they play again. So visit gameonsandiego.com … to add your experiences and tips. I will send them to the government on July 1st, ”she tweeted on Thursday.
Fletcher replied to Gaspar’s post on Sunday.
“That’s why we can’t have beautiful things,” he said on Twitter. “At the same time, we are seeing an increase in # COVID19 cases, outbreaks and hospitalizations in SD. This will require accelerated reopenings, including several new settings for high indoor exposure.”
Desmond was on Twitter with a link to his own COVID update on Friday on YouTube. He did not hire Fletcher directly, who nonetheless republished Desmond’s video.
“We continue to test more people while hospital admissions remain low. With an unemployment rate of 16%, we have to keep getting people to work safely! “Said Desmond.
It’s true that the county has tested more people, but the daily rate of positive tests has steadily increased. The number of COVID-associated hospital stays this week is also significantly higher than last week.
In a little diversion, Desmond ended the video by mentioning a way he was dealing with the stress of coronavirus pressures. He produced a target with images of the coronavirus that he used in a North County shooting range.
“This is how I relieve my frustrations,” he said.
This is hardly the first time Fletcher has battled Gaspar and Desmond over coronavirus policy.
In mid-March, Gaspar criticized the board’s coronavirus task force against KUSI, saying it was announcing measures before reporting them to the full board.
Then she said, “I would like to see elected leaders who look beyond their own interests to the interests of the community.”
She later said it was a general comment, but it appeared to be addressed to Fletcher, who is a member of the task force and has chaired many of their press conferences. Shortly thereafter, Fletcher responded in a KUSI interview.
“We are here to support and implement what (County Health Officer, Dr. Wilma Wooten) suggests and recommends,” he said, “at no point during this crisis has Dr. Wooten’s advice ever been changed, overridden, or contradicted . “
In a kind of turnaround, Gaspar recently released a press release defending the adequacy of the vote last Tuesday, according to the San Diego vote.
“We have never preceded the Public Health Office or the governor in reopening a corporate sector. Not once have we ignored our agreed health metrics that guide our response, ”wrote Gaspar.
Desmond has been questioning how severe the pandemic is local for some time.
In May, it gained national attention when he said San Diego County had only “six coronavirus-only deaths” that did not involve people with underlying health conditions, suggesting the threat was exaggerated.
At the time, the county had registered more than 190 deaths from the virus. (As of Tuesday, the local death toll was 365.)
At the time, Fletcher accused Desmond of “the obnoxious notion that people who died of Covid with underlying health conditions don’t count”.
With the county’s drive to reinstate restrictions, this sharp-edged debate may not end anytime soon.