Your Latest Questions About the Coronavirus in San Diego, Answered - Voice of San Diego

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Your Latest Questions About the Coronavirus in San Diego, Answered

The coronavirus pandemic is, quite simply, disrupting life as San Diegans know it in a way that is unprecedented. We pulled out a few questions from readers about what’s happening with San Diego government and communities.

Scripps Clinic Torrey Pines opened a “COVID-19 cabana” outside its urgent care center. / Photo courtesy of Scripps Health

The coronavirus pandemic is, quite simply, disrupting life as San Diegans know it in a way that is unprecedented. That means we’re all navigating uncharted waters and, naturally, a lot of questions about what’s happening and how things will work are cropping up every day.

We pulled out a few questions from readers about San Diego government and communities here. If you’d like to submit a question, you can do so using this form.

Why does it seem so hard to get tested? How do I get tested if I think I have it?

County Public Health Officer Wilma Wooten said that we shouldn’t expect that everyone will ever be able to be tested.

As of last week, the county public health lab had about 1,200 tests and was looking at ways to increase capacity.

Commercial labs and local hospitals are developing the capabilities to test as well. Scripps Health in La Jolla began drive-up testing in what it calls a “COVID cabana” Friday. People are asked to call a nurses’ line at (888) 261-8431 before going to any Scripps facility, and only people referred by the nurses can receive the drive-up testing.

But people who aren’t part of especially at-risk populations or who have mild symptoms, similar to cold- or flu-like symptoms, will likely just be asked to stay home.

The current CDC categories for testing are people who:

  • have been to infected areas (like China, Italy or Iran)
  • have had a history of contact with someone who has been confirmed to have the virus
  • present respiratory distress symptoms

San Diego’s biotech industry has been in the thick of things when it comes to testing. Thermo Fisher, which has offices in Carlsbad, is set to produce millions of kits that will diagnose coronavirus in four hours, the Union-Tribune reported. The Food and Drug Administration approved its testing kits Friday.

How is this impacting our economy?

We’ve been collecting information from public data sets and looking for behavioral changes that might spell trouble for local budgets and public services. You can see what we’ve found so far here. We plan to keep updating this as we learn more.

The Convention Center and sales in San Ysidro businesses by the border have taken early hits. Air traffic has held steady, but there are still many potential impacts, like transit ridership, that we won’t know yet.

What’s happening with schools?

All 43 school districts in the county are closed for the next few weeks and are having to come up with detailed and unprecedented plans that address everything from online learning to health and hunger.

What about the homeless population?

Homeless San Diegans are particularly vulnerable during outbreaks because they often lack easy access to basic sanitation resources. Indeed, the county’s homeless population was especially hit hard during a 2017 hepatitis A outbreak that left 20 dead.

To try to address that challenge, the county has placed 180 handwashing stations across the region in areas where homeless San Diegans tend to congregate. The Metropolitan Transit System said Friday that the county was also installing 56 handwashing stations at its trolley stops plus its UTC Transit Center and Mid-City Centerline Rapid Transit Stations.

The county also announced it would be deploying its homeless outreach teams to educate those living on the streets and distribute hygiene kits that include hand sanitizer, water and information about the coronavirus.

After a request from the city of San Diego, the county also sent public health nurses to city shelters to train staffers and screen shelter-dwellers who may show symptoms of coronavirus. Shelter operators report that they have also stepped up their regular cleaning efforts to try to stave off the virus.

County Supervisor Nathan Fletcher said Monday that the county has secured 227 motel rooms to temporarily shelter people, including homeless San Diegans, who may be directed to quarantine or be awaiting test results. He said the county had set a goal to try to access 2,000 motel rooms and that the Regional Task Force on the Homeless is working to secure additional motel rooms. Gov. Gavin Newsom also announced Monday night that the state has identified 901 hotels statewide that could at least temporarily house homeless Californians.

Fletcher and others emphasized that officials from the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development have also been providing technical assistance and guidance to local leaders as they plan their response to try to protect the region’s homeless population.

Mayor Kevin Faulconer has pledge that shielding the region’s homeless population will be a top priority in coming days and weeks.

“We are operating on high alert when it comes to our most vulnerable population of those who are homeless,” Faulconer said. “We continue to work very closely with the county and the San Diego Regional Task Force on the Homeless to make sure that those that are living on our streets, those that are living in our bridge shelters, to make sure we have every possible effort to ensure this virus does not take hold among this population.”

Will the border shut down?

San Ysidro and other ports of entry along San Diego County’s border remain open and there are no current plans to close them, confirmed U.S. Customs and Border Protection Friday.

CBP is working with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to provide additional screenings at ports of entry, said CBP spokesman Ralph DeSio last week.

“CBP is working with the CDC to identify arriving travelers who have been in mainland China or Iran within the previous 14 days, as they require enhanced health screening,” DeSio wrote in an e-mail. “Those travelers are identified by CBP officers during their primary inspection and are referred for secondary screening where CDC personnel conduct the enhanced health screening. CDC makes any determination from there as to whether any additional measures must be taken.”

What’s happening with government public meetings?

California is allowing state and local legislative entities to hold public meetings via teleconferencing and to make public meetings accessible by telephone or other electronic means to members of the public who want to attend and participate.

The San Diego City Clerk said the City Council is providing alternatives to in-person attendance at meetings and encourages people to use them, rather than come to meetings in person. Members of the public can submit comments – both on agenda items and non-agenda items – by form or by e-mail to cityclerk@sandiego.gov. Those public comments will be read on the record and the public can view the meetings on public television on City TV Channel 24 for Cox and Time Warner Cable, Channel 99 for AT&T or stream the meeting online.

The county has issued a public health order to limit the spread of the virus. How will that order be enforced?

The Sheriff’s Department will enforce the coronavirus public health order, which has since been updated.

On Monday, county health officials issued a new directive barring gatherings of 50 or more people and banning non-essential visits to hospitals and long-term care facilities effective midnight Tuesday.

If Sheriff’s deputies become aware of people violating the order, they will first provide a notice notifying them that they violated the public health order. They will give them a “reasonable opportunity to comply,” according to the department. If a person still does not comply, then the Sheriff’s Department can issue a citation for violating the order, which amounts to a misdemeanor.

The county and city also directed all bars to close. The San Diego Police Department said on Monday night it would be out educating bar and clubs owners about the closures and that enforcement would be a “complaint-drive process.”

How is this impacting courts, jails and detention centers?

Most jails and detention facilities in the region have significantly limited visitation to attempt to keep coronavirus exposure to detainees at minimum.

The Sheriff’s Department has suspended social contact visits at Las Colinas Detention and Reentry Facility in Santee. In the other facilities, the Sheriff’s Department said it has sanitation efforts in place, has increased booking restrictions and enhanced medical screenings during the pre-booking process to help identify those who may be displaying symptoms. The department also announced it has started accepting fewer people into the seven county jails and received the OK for the early release of some inmates, a move that could free up beds for quarantine needs.

The Metropolitan Correctional Center in San Diego, which hold federal inmates, has suspended all visitations, including from attorneys.

Immigrations and Customs Enforcement has suspended all social visitation at the Otay Mesa Detention Center, which houses immigration detainees. ICE says there have been no confirmed cases of the coronavirus among its detainees, but it has implemented additional screening and other protocols to limit exposure. The ACLU has filed a lawsuit in Washington state, asking that ICE release detainees at risk for coronavirus and a staffer at a New Jersey ICE detention facility has self-quarantined after exposure to the virus.

The San Diego Superior Court announced it will be closed for all criminal, civil, family law, probate, small claims, juvenile law and small claims matters through April 3. It will remain open for limited purposes, that include search warrants (which will be submitted electronically), requests for civil harassment temporary restraining orders, domestic violence restraining orders, gun violence protective orders and having a family law judge at each branch available for emergency temporary restraining order requests and guardianship requests where a minor’s safety is at risk.

All jurors summoned to the Superior Court from March 16 through April 3 should not report. Their jury service will be considered fulfilled. Anyone summoned after April 5 should monitor sdcourt.ca.gov for updates.

The U.S. District Court is also expected to announce that it will suspend all criminal proceedings there through April 17. Civil trials and grand jury proceedings will also be suspended.

New federal criminal cases, however, will continue to be processed, the Union-Tribune reports. That means defendants will be arraigned, have a chance to be released on bond with conditions and will be given lawyers if they can’t afford one. Some civil law motions could still be heard, and judges in the district will have the authority to conduct any criminal proceedings, except for trials.

Immigration court continues, business as usual. An unusual coalition of the union representing ICE attorneys, the union representing immigration judges and the American Immigration Lawyers Association, has called for the emergency closure of non-detained immigration courts.

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