County approves plan to enforce COVID-19 health orders

San Diego County Administration Building
Under a plan approved by the county Board of Supervisors, the county will spend $1.8 million over the next six months for 22 staff members to respond to reports of businesses violating public health orders.

San Diego County is beefing up its enforcement of its health orders to try to curb the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus and is putting more money toward child care and food services to help people struggling during the pandemic.

Under a plan approved by the Board of Supervisors on Aug. 4, the county will spend $1.8 million over the next six months for 22 staff members to respond to reports of businesses violating the public health orders. The move is part of an effort for the county, rather than law enforcement, to take the lead in enforcing its health orders.

The violators being targeted in the new effort are separate from violations considered egregious, defined as a willful and sustained disregard of county health orders, posing a significant risk of spreading the virus.

The county already has dedicated $1.4 million to handle the more severe cases by funding a call center and developing a mobile phone application to help inspections, among other efforts.

The latest action is a sign that the county is taking a more aggressive stance toward violations of the health orders, which have prohibited indoor activities for gyms, churches, restaurants, salons and others, among other restrictions.

County District Attorney Summer Stephan recently issued the area’s first criminal charge against a business accused of violating the shutdown, leaving Ramona gym owner Peter San Nicholas facing five misdemeanors. County code enforcement officials also recently served closure notices or cease-and-desist orders to at least three other gyms.

The Sheriff’s Department had received 4,200 complaints about health code violations and issued 144 citations since March 19, according to a staff report presented to the supervisors.

Supervisors also allocated $48.8 million from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, also known as the CARES Act. Child care providers will receive $25 million, food services will receive $18.8 million, and $5 million will go toward testing, tracing and treatment strategies at K-12 schools.

The child care funding will be administered through a partnership with YMCA Childcare Resource Services, Child Development Associations and The San Diego Foundation, which will provide an additional $10 million in private donations to support child care providers.

Supervisor Nathan Fletcher, who proposed the funding, said in a statement that the action could help as many as 4,400 child care providers and help the local economy and working families.

The money is the remainder of $387.8 million the county was allocated as part of state funds and federal coronavirus relief funds and the CARES Act. The board already had allocated $339 million to cover various costs in the county’s response to the pandemic.