Encinitas cracks down on maskholes

Encinitas Mayor Catherine Blakespear pre-COVID at Highway 101.

(Editor’s note: This New Year’s Eve coronavirus update is provided by Encinitas Mayor Catherine Blakespear. She was elected to the Encinitas City Council in 2014 and won her mayoral election in 2018 with 83% of the vote. Blakespear holds a BA and MA injournalism from Northwestern University and JD from the Universty of Utah. As mayor and a representative of the City of Encinitas, she serves on several outside boards, including as Vice-Chair of the SANDAG Board of Directors, and as a board member on San Diego’s Airport Authority, the Encina Wastewater Authority, and the San Elijo Joint Powers Authority, as well as the San Dieguito Water District.)

On this final day of 2020, with the Regional Stay Home order now extended indefinitely, I want to share an update on the status of this deadly virus in Encinitas, specifically what’s happening with enforcement, schools, the vaccine and New Year’s parties.

Today’s news is that the city will be suspending sidewalk and street permits for restaurants that are violating the county health order by remaining open. All restaurants need to follow the county’s take-out only requirements. This is a serious health emergency – we all need to do better. More details below.

The numbing numbers

Bottom line: Case numbers are significantly higher than a month ago; we have widespread transmission in Encinitas and throughout the county; even influenza cases are now rising.

California has the most confirmed coronavirus cases in the U.S., with more than 2.2 million cases as of Dec. 30 and nearly 25,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University.

Yesterday the first detected California-case of the U.K variant was found here in San Diego County. A man in his 30s with no recent travel history tested positive with this new strain, which is estimated to be 56% to 70% more transmissible. Although the symptoms are not reported to be more severe, it spreads more easily. Read more in this article from Politico.

All cities in the county of San Diego, including Encinitas, are in the “purple tier,” which is the most restrictive tier (see map below). This means non-essential indoor business operations are closed.

The purple tier is triggered when the case rate is 7 or more. In the most recent reported seven-day period, Encinitas had a case rate more than four times this minimum threshold. Our Encinitas case rate was 33, which is the number of positive cases per 100,000 people averaged across a seven-day period.

This number predates Christmas week, and we know from the spike after Thanksgiving that multi-person celebrations ignite a new level of virus spread.

You can see the county’s numbers for yourself and break it down city-by-city here.

Intensive Care Unit (ICU) availability in our county and region is listed at 0.0%. This sounds alarming, and it is. The county offers this analysis of that percentage:

“An ICU availability of 0.0% does not necessarily mean there are no ICU beds available. What it indicates is that hospitals in that region are operating at surge capacities and their ability to treat other ill people – patients with heart attacks, strokes, other traumas, etc.—is limited.”

If you feel ill and want to get tested, call your healthcare provider or 211. More information is at 211Sandiego.org. The closest testing site is in Solana Beach and it’s appointment-only, given the large numbers of people trying to get tested.

Responding to COVID violations in Encinitas

Bottom line: Encinitas will be pulling sidewalk permits from rule-breaking restaurants. If you want to report a restaurant, the Sheriff’s Compliance Team is the enforcing agency. To report violators, citizens can call the compliance team at 858-694-2900.

Every day I get emails asking me to close the restaurants, beaches, parking lots, hotels and vacation rentals. I understand why people are frustrated; I’m also frustrated. I don’t expect that we’ll return to closed beaches. We know more about the virus now than we did in March, and close contact inside is what’s most dangerous.

The city is doing what we can, announcing today that we will be rescinding the encroachment permits for businesses that continue serving food and alcohol in the city right-of-way in violation of the county health order. The city’s press release is here.

The city’s code enforcement has been directed to contact local businesses to seek voluntary compliance and those who don’t comply will have their permit to operate in the city’s right-of-way revoked. We shouldn’t have local businesses using the city’s property to violate county health orders.In general, the Sheriff’s Department enforces the county health guidelines. The city has a close relationship with the Sheriff’s Department, but Sheriff Gore sets department policy, not the ten cities that contract with the department for services, including Encinitas.

Yesterday I spoke with the Encinitas Sheriff’s Captain about restaurants that remain open despite the public health order mandating take-out only.

Captain Taft re-confirmed that the Compliance Team is the right place to report violators, because it is “vertically integrated” – the county, sheriff’s deputies and the district attorney work together to enforce the rules when businesses violate the health order.

While the city can revoke the permit for dining in the city’s right of way, the county compliance team would need to pursue the revocation of the business’ ABC, or alcohol, license, as well as fines or other penalties for non-compliance.

So any violations of the health order, including a restaurant serving people inside, should be reported to the non-emergency Sheriff number at 858-565-5200, calling the compliance team at 858-694-2900, or emailing SafeReopeningComplianceTeam@sdcounty.ca.gov. Captain Taft said that while the sheriff’s deputies respond to every reported violation, they are not always able to follow up with each complainant.

Starting next week, 10 additional officers will be added to the compliance team because of the high number of violators and calls from residents. Cease and desist orders are issued against establishments that continue violating the health order.

Some restaurants in Encinitas are apparently running out the clock on the requirements, not moving to take-out only until their cease and desist letters require it.

I know it’s frustrating to see this. I also have enormous empathy for our small businesses during the pandemic. It’s heartbreaking to see restaurants working so hard to claw their way through a few more months of survival. Several of our city’s restaurants that have stayed open have reported employees getting sick, a further risk to the viability of the business and the community’s health.

Ultimately, we have to pull together to survive this deadly surge until COVID vaccines become more widely available.

There is more state financial relief available for small businesses in San Diego County. Businesses and non-profits can sign-up to receive funds by visiting www.CaReliefgrant.com. The deadline to apply is January 8.

And the Larry Himmel Foundation is helping out with its Restaurant Assistance Program. You can read more about it in this Encinitas Advocate article, and watch the Facebook video above as the foundation’s Miles Himmel gives Scott Ciancimino of Encinitas’ own Potato Shack Cafe a $5000 boost.

Some folks have asked about enforcement regarding mask-wearing. Captain Taft told me that 99% of people approached about wearing a mask by a Sheriff’s deputy get one out of their purse or pocket, or accept a free one. He said it’s no longer about “education” on wearing masks, but really just a reminder to wear them. The city has been aggressively messaging about mask-wearing for many months.

More than ten months into the pandemic, the battle rhythm remains the same in response to this major public health threat. Collectively, we all have to commit to execute it better.

San Dieguito schools reopening postponed

Bottom line: Public junior high and high schoolers won’t return for in-person learning in January

Students in the city’s largest school district – the San Dieguito Union High School District, serving grades 7-12  – will not return to school for one day a week starting January 4, nor will they return full time later in January, as had been planned.

All of those plans are paused after a school board decision to re-open prompted a lawsuit from the teacher’s union. For now, based on an announced settlement agreement this week, the majority of students will continue with online learning only. This Encinitas Advocate article provides more details: San Dieguito delays reopening, settling union lawsuit

At the public elementary schools in Encinitas, (K-6) many students are aleady attending school in person part-time every week.

At the governor’s press conference yesterday he announced an intention to get schools re-opened in early spring, with $2 billion in spending available to help them do it safely.

While watching the press conference, I was struck by California Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond’s answer to a question about whether schools will actually be able to reopen if transmission rates remain so high. He said at a minimum there would need to be weekly COVID testing by the school district, contract tracing and six feet of distancing.

There was also a focus on the fact that schools that have yet to reopen for general education – such as the ten schools in the San Dieguito district – would need to wait for rates to come down before going back to school. (I understand that the definition of the word “open” is in dispute with some).

Encinitas vaccine update

Bottom line: It’s hard to know how many people are being vaccinated each day, but it’s likely to be a while before the general public will be vaccinated.

The county has confirmed that information on the distribution of the vaccine is currently fragmented because the vaccine rollout is so decentralized. Many entities are receiving vaccines directly, not going through the county, including health systems, the Department of Defense, and larger pharmacies.

The city is not involved in vaccine distribution or coordination for residents.

Overall the county is still in Tier 1 of Phase 1A with the vaccine distribution. If you want more information on the vaccine phasing, click here.

Unfortunately at this point in time, it’s unclear as to when you and I will be getting access to the vaccine.

Think twice about that New Year’s party

Bottom line: Attending a New Year’s celebration with 25 people tonight gives you a 65% chance of being in the room with a COVID-positive person. Not worth the risk!We can’t control the entirety of this pandemic, but each of us can control ourselves. Let’s learn the lessons that we’ve been taught over the last 10 months – this disease is deadly. You don’t want it and you don’t want to spread it to others! Wear a mask, keep your distance, only do what’s necessary, stay outside if you need to be around others.

This Event Risk Assessment Planning Tool (shown above) is a frighteningly fascinating way to determine the estimated chance that at least one positive person will be at any size gathering (go to the “REAL TIME US AND STATE-LEVEL ESTIMATES” tab at the top of the page). For example, at a local party with 25 people there’s a 65% chance that someone with COVID is there.

This is the year for a quiet New Year’s Eve at home with your immediate family or housemates, saying goodbye to 2020 and looking toward a better 2021. It’s really not worth the risk to party tonight. Avoid temptation! A party is clearly non-essential.

The best is yet to come!

While things won’t change immediately in January, we know that we’ve turned a corner in many profound ways as we close the book on 2020. We just need to hold on, follow the pandemic guidelines, support each other and have confidence that better times are ahead.

“For last year’s words belong to last year’s language
And next year’s words await another voice.
And to make an end is to make a beginning.”

– T.S. Eliot
(Thanks to Teresa Arballo Barth for posting this quote!)

With care for you and your loved ones,

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