County approves $20 million for hurting businesses as COVID hospitalizations rise

Eastbound Bar and Grill
The Eastbound Bar and Grill in Lakeside on Sept. 24, 2020.
(Eduardo Contreras / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Applications are available for select businesses that can demonstrate direct financial harm caused by the latest restrictions


County supervisors approved an additional $20 million in small business grants Wednesday, Nov. 25, as the number of COVID patients in local hospitals continued to rise.

An additional 944 coronavirus cases, and four more COVID-related deaths, appeared in the latest daily county health department tallies. The number of patients confirmed or suspected to be fighting the disease in hospital beds increased to 545. That total, which captured the situation in local medical centers as of Tuesday, Nov. 24, was slightly lower than a figure of 576 listed by San Diego’s hospital association because it includes local military hospitals while the county’s tally does not.

While those with COVID diagnoses still do not come close to making up a majority of hospital patients, their share has grown rapidly.

As of Tuesday, Nov. 24, the most recent day for which data is publicly available, 12 percent of all local hospital admissions are COVID-related. That figure was just 6.5 percent on Nov. 1, according to county records.

While hospitals collectively report that nearly 1,600 beds remain available in the system, executives have said recently they fear a shortage of expert medical personnel.

But COVID-related suffering is not confined to hospitals. Many local businesses now find themselves out in the cold due to the region’s recent fall into the most-restrictive “purple” tier of the state’s COVID reopening program.

The restrictions require many businesses, from restaurants to movie theaters, to operate outdoors or not at all. That’s an expensive proposition for many, if not an impossibility.

On a unanimous vote, the county board granted itself the financial ability to help ease the pain, dipping into financial reserves to give each of its five members $4 million to issue grants to small businesses within their districts.

Board chairman Greg Cox, who proposed the initiative along with Supervisor Nathan Fletcher, said the hope is to prevent irreversible damage to businesses that may otherwise perish before coronavirus case rates drop enough for the county to climb out of the lowest level of the state’s COVID risk-ranking system.

“This new placement in the purple tier may just push them over the edge, and we want to prevent that if we at all possibly can,” Cox said.

“They didn’t do anything wrong,” Fletcher added. “A year ago we never would have imagined that the indoor spaces where people gather together would be dangerous because of a growing global pandemic.”

The new funding follows $27 million in already-allocated federal CARES Act cash provided to local businesses through the county’s Small Business Grant program.

Applications for the latest round of funding can be submitted through the same county website used for the previous grant round, at

This time, though, the focus is squarely on those businesses most directly affected by the latest restrictions: restaurants, gyms and fitness centers, yoga studios, movie theaters, museums, zoos or aquariums, and companies operating in the events industry. They will need to show exactly how the drop into the purple tier affected their operations.

Businesses must have fewer than 100 employees to qualify, be headquartered in San Diego County, and be in operation for at least one year as of Feb. 14.

— Paul Sisson is a reporter for The San Diego Union-Tribune