Morning Report: Government Caught in the Middle of Coronavirus Crisis - Voice of San Diego

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Morning Report: Government Caught in the Middle of Coronavirus Crisis

San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer / Photo by Vito Di Stefano

Local governments are on the frontlines of the coronavirus. Yet local governments are themselves victims of this crisis as well. 

That fact complicates any local economic rescue packages and community relief funds intended to cushion households and small businesses from the effects of an economic screeching to a halt, Andrew Keatts reports. 

There’s probably not enough local capital available to address the problem. According to one expert, the metro regions with a cohesive and collaborative network of governments, universities, philanthropies and businesses capable of tackling the problem together will likely do better than the rest. 

Last week, San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer announced microloans to small businesses while the City Council is attempting to adopt a moratorium on residential and business evictions. Local organizations have started announcing their own efforts, but for now the details are scant.

Health and safety concerns will remain the priority for local governments for the foreseeable future, but officials are also bracing for what an economic downturn means on their own budgets. Ashly McGlone reports that municipalities are going to have to deal with huge financial losses as society comes to a halt. 

Pensions, for instance, are guaranteed income for people who retire and if investment earnings tank, the money needs to come from other sources, meaning some government services will suffer. 

Medical Supplies Are in Short Supply After All

Will Huntsberry reported last week that county officials who are coordinating the regional response to a global pandemic and hospitals were sending mixed messages on whether the region was running low on basic protective equipment, such as gloves, gowns, goggles and surgical masks.

They’re now in agreement. Yes, San Diego is facing a shortage of the equipment that can help stop the spread of the coronavirus among health care workers.

Currently medical supplies are coming from state and national stockpiles, and manufacturers, but those orders are backed up weeks. Newsom said the federal government pledged to send more equipment, but it was unclear when that might arrive. 

Ventilators are also important because the devices help patients with collapsed air sacs breathe. The Union-Tribune asks and answers a question: Are 826 ventilators enough for San Diego? Only if you stay home.

First responders are also starting to test positive. That includes a firefighter-paramedic who, the U-T reports, had recently been on active duty without displaying the fever or cough symptoms associated with the virus

Shutdowns Also Affecting Census

For a year now, public agencies and community groups have been engaged in a major push to ensure the region’s many hard-to-count populations take part in the one-a-decade U.S. census. Those efforts are now on hold, Maya Srikrishnan reports. 

Census mailings began hitting mailboxes just as public health officials were asking people to keep their distance and limiting large gatherings. Organizers who had planned to go door-knocking are working the phones instead and worried they may not reach everyone. 

The effort is an important one because it helps determine where federal dollars are allocated and is used to draw political maps. 

COVID-19 and the Changing Reality of Politics

If you feel like all this news is coming at you fast, you’re not alone. On the podcast, we had to take a moment just to try to process what has happened over the last week and how dramatically it has changed our lives and local public affairs.

There’s another election in a few months, and it’s going to bear little resemblance to the one we imagined having at the start of 2020. Scott Lewis and Andrew Keatts write that the coronavirus is changing local campaign strategies: “every political race in town will come down to voters deciding which candidate is best suited to solve the dire crisis facing the city of San Diego and the broader region.”

Two more people in the political world announced that they’ve tested positive for COVID-19. That includes San Diego County Democratic Party Chairman Will Rodriguez-Kennedy, who said he’d been hospitalized with a fever, excruciating muscle aches, difficulty breathing and more. City Council candidate Kelvin Barrios described similar symptoms and wrote online, “Having ups and downs.”

We spent much of last week mining our contacts for signs of how the world was changing:

  • Lisa Halverstadt reports that homeless residents and advocates are struggling to access resources promised in response to the coronavirus pandemic. The county is scrambling to open up motel rooms for those in need and to coordinate with dozens of health care providers. As of Saturday, the county had amassed 1,783 motel rooms for those who have tested positive or may have the virus who don’t have a safe place to self-isolate, including 200 specifically for homeless San Diegans at risk.
  • Sara Libby and Jesse Marx checked in with San Diego’s state delegation to get a sense of what legislative life is like during a pandemic. Our senators and Assembly members said they and their staffs have been working remotely and spending a great deal of time answering questions from constituents related to unemployment insurance, tenants’ rights and more. 

Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins told us over the weekend that “this is not business as usual. The Legislature — in partnership with the governor, the  federal government and our local leaders — have been working around the clock to make information available to our communities as quickly as possible, and to provide the governor and his administration the necessary tools for us to attack this virus head-on.”

Her own priority “is to support every effort to flatten the COVID-19 transmission curve and to keep my constituents informed about what they can do and what is happening locally, at the state level, and at the federal level,” she said in a statement. 

Carlsbad Leaving ‘Smart Streetlights’ Out of ‘Smart City’ Program

As Carlsbad lays the groundwork for a new digital infrastructure, the city is thinking about privacy and public input in a way that San Diego never did — upfront and with the support and knowledge of elected officials. 

Marx reports that Carlsbad’s early proposals do not include one of the central and most controversial components of San Diego’s smart city program: the streetlight cameras that’ve become useful to police and were pitched as a way to meet climate and mobility goals.

Carlsbad also wants to collect data in public rights of way that can better inform policies around housing affordability, traffic, homelessness and open space. But the city intends to hire a data scientist and business intelligence manager who thinks about the privacy implications of the technologies they’re rolling out.

Some of the same activists and researchers who are helping San Diego write a surveillance ordinance are aware of what’s happening in Carlsbad. And while they said Carlsbad’s initial proposal doesn’t seem all that invasive, they gave Marx a sense of what they’ll be watching. 

Speaking of tech, police departments in California are expressing more interest in drones programs in response to the coronavirus. A Chula Vista captain told the Financial Times that drones could be used to disburse crowds and give updates and orders to the homeless. 

In Other News

The Morning Report was written by Jesse Marx, and edited by Sara Libby.

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