County leaders want to reverse past decisions undermining COVID-19 response


SAN DIEGO – County Board of Supervisors Chair Nathan Fletcher and Vice Chair Nora Vargas are proposing a resolution to reverse past actions of the body which undermine the county’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Fletcher, unanimously selected Tuesday to lead the new iteration of the board, said he wants the body to speak with “a clear voice” in support of science and public health orders while not avoiding “the difficult decisions we have to make.” It comes as part of a push to reorient the county’s focus on the pandemic toward a response that’s more “collaborative, data-driven and equitable” as well as directing funding to areas with the most need.

The board is slated to vote on the initiatives Jan. 12.

“None of us want to close anybody – at all,” Fletcher said in an Instagram session with Vargas. “I mean, no one runs for office to say, ‘When I get elected, I want to close restaurants.’ I mean, that’s just lunacy. But we can’t avoid the difficult situations and challenges.

“We can rebuild a lot of things, but you can’t rebuild a life.”

San Diego County remains under the state’s regional stay-at-home order, which was instituted last month as a surge in cases and hospitalizations threatened the ICU capacity of health systems. As of this week, the ICU capacity in Southern California region — which includes 11 counties including San Diego, Los Angeles and Imperial counties — remains at zero. The figure is adjusted downward if counties have a higher-than-expected ratio of COVID-19 patients occupying ICU space.

But state and local officials also have drawn some criticism from businesses, school communities and others — including fellow Supervisor Jim Desmond — for the effect the stay-at-home order and other public health guidance has had on them.

In a letter outlining the new policy, Fletcher and Vargas wrote that the previous board “questioned the actions” of San Diego County’s Public Health Officer Dr. Wilma Wooten, wrote letters to Gov. Gavin Newsom opposing executive action with some “openly (advocating) for the defiance of State and local Public Health orders.”

“These actions have harmed our public health response and undermined confidence in our strategy,” they wrote.

While past COVID-19 funding distributions have been evenly spread among the county’s five districts, this proposal calls for prioritizing areas based on impact of the virus.

“As funding allocations are made around COVID, they’ve got to recognize the proportionality of who’s been hit hardest,” Fletcher said.

Vargas, the former Southwestern College board member who defeated Ben Hueso to become the first Latina ever to serve on the body, said her family was hit hard by COVID-19, disclosing that her father is in the hospital battling the virus. Although her family is navigating the situation with health insurance, she said the experience informs the work she does each day.

“I know there’s a lot of folks who have to work three jobs in our community and are trying to figure out about their kids and childcare and all these different things,” Vargas said. “I think that’s where we can make a big difference. Together with the rest of the board as well, we’re going to be able to do good things that are going to be impactful.”

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