Morning Report: County Must Provide COVID-19 Death Data

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Morning Report: County Must Provide COVID-19 Death Data

San Diego County’s Health and Human Services Agency / Photo by Adriana Heldiz

A San Diego Superior Court judge has sided with Voice of San Diego in its lawsuit against San Diego County over releasing data related to coronavirus deaths.

Back in April, VOSD contributor Jared Whitlock, who’s covered the senior care industry’s struggles amid the coronavirus pandemic, filed a request under the California Public Records Act seeking death certificates that include coronavirus as a cause or contributing factor to deaths in long-term care facilities.

Though death certificates are public records, the county argued that anyone seeking them must provide a name or other identifying information. That argument turned public records law on its head: The county was requiring a journalist to know what a death certificate said before he could inspect it. 

Judge Ronald Styn wrote in his order that he wasn’t swayed by the county’s arguments for keeping the information secret.

“Given that death certificates are publically available and considering the seriousness of the circumstances surrounding the coronavirus pandemic and the significant public interest in the County’s role in responding to the pandemic, the court finds the County fails to establish that, ‘the public interest served by not disclosing the record clearly outweighs the public interest served by disclosure of the record’ so as to justify withholding the records,” Styn wrote.

The order has been stayed for 20 days to give the county time to consider an appeal. A spokesman said the Board of Supervisors will weigh an appeal in an upcoming closed session.

A separate Voice of San Diego lawsuit against the county to obtain more data about coronavirus outbreaks, an effort joined by KPBS and the Union-Tribune, is ongoing.

Some data they did provide: The county posted a new map showing where in the county it is seeing high transmission rates of the virus. El Cajon jumps off the map with a 24.1 case rate per 100,000 people. For perspective, the whole county had to go into the purple, most restrictive tier of lockdowns this week, because it had a case rate above 7 per 100,000 people. El Cajon’s is more than four times that.

Business Owners, Parents, County Push Back Against COVID-19 Restrictions

The city is preparing to fall back into the most restrictive tier of the state’s COVID-19 reopening plan this Saturday and tensions are high … again. 

One restaurant owner told KUSI he’d defy the governor’s orders to close indoor operations. SeaWorld San Diego is  going to reclose their indoor animal exhibits.

Parents of students with disabilities say San Diego Unified’s COVID-19 mask mandate discriminates against their children who can’t tolerate facial coverings, the Union-Tribune reported. 

The purple tier means nonessential businesses will need to move operations outside.

San Diego County once again argued with the state’s decision, saying an increase in cases didn’t come from businesses that get impacted most by restrictions. According to October stats, restaurants and bars were linked to just over 7 percent of cases; retail made up 6.6 percent, places of worship and K-12 schools accounted for under 2 percent each and gyms accounted for under half a percent. 

As of Thursday, the county has 62,334 reported positive COVID-19 cases with the most cases in that 20-29 years range. 

Despite the latest slip, San Diego Superior Court said it wouldn’t be announcing any changes to local court proceedings or court date cancelations. 

In Other News

The Morning Report was written by MacKenzie Elmer, and edited by Sara Libby.

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