Earlier this week, the city of San Diego announced that Mayor Kevin Faulconer was planning a tour of Little Italy to highlight the successful expansion of alfresco dining to help restaurants weather the COVID-19 outbreak.
Hours later, the city released another press release urging residents to plan for disasters such as forest fires, earthquakes and floods. It turns out that September is appropriately National Preparedness Month.
Whether this is a metaphor for what the region is going through or not, it is certainly a harrowing comparison.
In coastal communities, far from the raging valley fire in East County, people enjoyed alfresco dining in smoke-filtered, orange sunlight while the occasional ashes wafted from the flame.
People, companies and government officials playfully try to move forward and navigate safely through unprecedented times – often successfully, sometimes not.
Steps to expedite outdoor restaurant and retail permits have provided a lifeline for some businesses. This is important, although it does not equate to the heroics of firefighters and public safety workers who worked to contain the fire and protect lives and property in upstate San Diego County.
Of course, the mayor and officials across the region have issued repeated warnings and updates about the fire, even as Faulconer toured Little Italy on Tuesday.
Cities across the county have opened sidewalks and parking lots, and blocked road segments to allow restaurants to work outdoors.
There’s really no silver lining to the deadly pandemic, but the al-fresco mode has given commercial parks and some neighborhoods a new dynamic while keeping more workers and businesses open.
“Being able to go out on the street, on the sidewalk – it really helps,” said Salvatore Canigila, owner of Buon Appetito restaurant, during a visit to Faulconer through a mask on Fox 5.
San Diego City Council members took more action this week to help employees and certain laid-off workers. On Tuesday, they extended paid sick leave from COVID-19 in companies with 500 or more employees and gave priority to hiring hotel workers who had lost their jobs due to the pandemic.
While the Council’s support for these two actions was broad, they were not broadly supported like the outdoor effort. Opponents said the policy would put additional strain on companies that are already struggling.
On Wednesday, Governor Gavin Newsom signed three bills to help small businesses, including one that offers $ 100 million in tax credits to companies hiring new or laid-off workers. Later that day, San Diego county director Greg Cox said the county was preparing to distribute a total of $ 14 million in stimulus grants to local businesses.
But the week has had its worrying trends.
The number of San Diego State University students who tested positive for coronavirus continued to rise to well over 400 by the middle of the week. The university extended its edict restricting students to their on-campus accommodation except for essential travel, another week.
Nearly 600 students and faculties at UC San Diego signed an open letter asking the university not to reopen campus.
There are more cases of COVID-19 in the Metropolitan Correctional Center in downtown San Diego than in any federal prison in the country, according to trial attorney Jeremy Warren.
In the meantime, the county is on the verge of withdrawing from its recent reopenings.
Among California’s 10 most populous counties, only San Diego received state permission to allow businesses to expand and reopen schools when the state rolled out its new tiered program ranking to contain the outbreak in late August, according to the Associated Press.
Recently, a handful of other counties were admitted to the milder level – just as San Diego was beginning to retreat. With the deterioration in the number of coronavirus cases, the county is on the verge of falling to its lowest level and facing more severe restrictions again. And this is before a potential spike was recorded due to Labor Day gatherings.
Such a move would mean that restaurants that were recently allowed to serve a limited number of guests would have to close their dining rooms again. Cinemas and museums – which have also just reopened with limited capacity – would have to close. Retail stores would have to reduce their capacity from 50 to 25 percent. Gyms could only be operated outdoors.
Supervisor Cox endorsed the reopening move, but when the state gave approval, he urged everyone to obey the rules, especially regarding social distancing and the wearing of masks.
“Let’s not take this opportunity,” he said. “Let’s work together to control our own destiny and show the rest of the state how it’s done.”
Supervisor Nathan Fletcher was a rare voice among prominent elected officials who said it was too early to open up. Not only did that set him apart from other board members, but it put him on the other side of this issue of Governor Gavin Newsom, a political ally.
“What we’re doing is very similar to what we did in June, as a lot of the indoor surgeries are open at the same time,” Fletcher said in late August. “This led to a large increase in the number of cases and required new restrictions.”
Maybe San Diego can buck the trend and hold the line so as not to have to step back again.
It’s likely some stretch to point out synergistic karma here, but the red flag warning for severe fire conditions was lifted earlier than expected this week, giving firefighters a little break and helping them make progress in containing the valley fire .
However, authorities said at least 30 homes were destroyed and a new fire spread in Santee on Thursday afternoon.
There will be ups and downs for a while. Forest fires and the coronavirus are not going anywhere anytime soon.
At least there is outdoor dining. Some days that comes with one side of the ashes.