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San Diego County Supervisors OK More Rental Assistance

Patch logo Patch 1/27/2021 City News Service
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SAN DIEGO COUNTY, CA — County supervisors Tuesday unanimously voted in favor making rental assistance more available for those affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, and working with the state to allow the safe return of youth sports competition.

Based on a proposal from Supervisor Terra Lawson-Remer, rental assistance will be available for a six-month period, allowing more residents access to help with priority given to single parents.

As part of another request from Lawson-Remer, a staff report on possibly expanding the rental assistance program to undocumented residents will be presented to the board within a month.

The county will receive around $49 million in federal funds to help renters in unincorporated areas and 16 cities, said David Estrella, director of Housing and Community Development Services.

The application process will start in February, primarily be online and include certain guidelines, Estrella said, adding that between 1,000 and 4,000 households would be eligible.

The cities of San Diego and Chula Vista are receiving separate amounts of federal money for rental assistance, Estrella said.

Supervisor Jim Desmond offered a "friendly amendment that the county prioritize working with the state to devise a plan to allow youth sports/safe competition to resume," which was passed by the board as part of the rent relief vote.

Desmond added that Gov. Gavin Newsom's recent decision on reopenings means the lockdown was unnecessary.

During the regular COVID-19 update, Dr. Wilma Wooten, public health officer, said the county "will continue to be cautiously optimistic" as daily case counts decline.

As of Monday, the county's cumulative case total was 228,632, while the death toll remained unchanged at 2,375.

Citing improving conditions in hospitals, state health officials lifted regional stay-at-home orders on Monday.

However, San Diego and the other 10 counties in the Southern California region will still be subject to the tight regulations of the restrictive "purple" tier of economic reopening guidelines.

County officials moved the county back into the purple tier, which allows reopening of outdoor restaurant dining, gyms, places of worship, museums, zoos and aquariums, camping and outdoor recreation, bars, breweries and distilleries if they serve food, low-contact youth sports such as cross-country, swimming and diving, golf and track and field, family entertainment centers and movie theaters.

Personal care services such as barber shops, hair and nail salons and tattoo shops can operate indoors, while grocery stores can operate at 50% capacity, retail at 25%, and live sports can continue as long as fans aren't in attendance. Amusement parks will remain closed.

Despite the state's decision, "we must all remain vigilant," Wooten told supervisors.

She added that everyone can do their part by wearing a mask, washing their hands and practicing socially distant behavior.

"Together, we have made progress," she said. "We can slowly reopen to support the economic health of our region."

The county still has a long way to go to reach the less-restrictive red tier, Wooten said, adding, "We hope we don't need to resort to strict measures to save lives."

Wooten and Dr. Natasha Martin of UC San Diego also said the county must now also deal with the emergence of the coronavirus B.1.1.7 variant.

Martin, an associated professor of medicine, said that new strain will become the dominant strain in San Diego County. "The question is how long that will take," she added.

Now is the time to double down on vaccination, reduce transmission, approach reopening with caution and collect data, Martin said.

Nick Machionne, director of county Health and Human Services, said the county's goals are to vaccinate those 16 and older by July 1. As of now, 1 million residents are eligible to get vaccinated.

"That means 22,000 doses a day," said Machionne, who added that officials must ensure that the public has confidence about the process and also engage with community partners.

Machionne said there are now nine vaccination sites, including two "superstations" (Petco Park and South Bay) in San Diego County. An Escondido site is opening soon, and there are plans for vaccination spots in North County and the North Coastal region, he added.

The county is working with military/veterans organizations and pharmacies to offer even more access to the vaccine. Machionne said the county is also ramping up its workforce to help with vaccinations, including training emergency medical technicians to administer them.

Lawson-Remer praised President Joe Biden for efforts to help those hurting financially because of the pandemic. "We have to act with similar urgency locally," she said.

During a public comment period, many urged the county to find even more money for rental assistance, while others criticized policies they felt were still too strict.

Board Chairman Nathan Fletcher said he was pleased to see his colleagues take an "evidence-based approach to addressing the pandemic, with a focus on vaccine distribution."

— City News Service

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