Vaccine plans stretch to reach as many as possible; business closures push many San Diegans past brink
Case, death and hospitalization counts continue their relentless upward trend
With so much need now, public health leaders say they plan to administer the entire first batch of coronavirus vaccine when it arrives and count on a second shipment for the second doses that will be due three weeks after the first to establish full immunity.
Citing “directions from the state,” a county official said Sunday, Dec. 6, that the full 28,000 doses that the region expects to receive soon will be quickly deployed to a like number of front-line health care workers and skilled nursing home residents.
The plan received quick support Monday, Dec. 7, from Dr. David Brenner, vice chancellor of health sciences at UC San Diego, who said the first dose appears to be very powerful, enabling the university to immunize a larger number of its essential workers more quickly.
“I think the (second) dose just gives you longer protection,” Brenner said. “It looks like very few people get infected after the first dose.”
The county health department, which is in charge of allocating local doses received, has not yet announced how it will split up the initial inventory, though it is clear that those closest to the front lines, followed by those at the most significant risk from infection, will have first dibs.
Broad vaccination cannot come fast enough for a populace now under a fresh stay-at-home order that shuttered whole categories of business that were barely viable under the state’s tier-based reopening system. But coronavirus activity continues to prove relentless, with an additional 1,703 new cases, seven deaths and 35 additional hospitalizations listed in San Diego County’s daily COVID update Monday.
Monday’s business closure was just another turn of the screw in a frustrating year for 32-year-old barber Cody Peterson.
He said he has already burned through all his savings in 2020 that he built up over four years and the third closure of his shop, Monarch Barbershop in downtown San Diego, will be devastating.
Peterson said getting an extra $300 a week in unemployment was nice but he loves his job and can also make much more being able to go to his shop every day.
“I don’t want your money,” he said of government unemployment benefits. “I just want to work.”
He said he has continued to pay rent at his Golden Hill apartment, fearing having to pay back a lump sum later if he fell behind.
Peterson said he hasn’t decided what he will do the next few weeks but is weighing leaving California for a lower cost state.
While there certainly will be job losses from the new restrictions, it’s still too early to know the severity, said Peter Callstrom, head of the San Diego Workforce Partnership, which helps laid-off workers with retraining and employment services.
“I think a lot of it comes down to whatever relief package comes out of D.C., which it looks like there is something happening soon,” he said.
For now, Callstrom has not seen an uptick in California Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notices (WARN) required for large layoffs. The stay-at-home order was announced Saturday, Dec. 5, and became effective Monday, Dec. 7, so businesses still may be figuring out how to adjust.
“But It is going to depress economic spending, as we know with people not out and about as much as they were,” said Callstrom.
Nonprofits, charities, and service providers throughout the county say the pandemic has created a greater demand for the meals and programs they provide to area residents each year, and some expect those numbers to increase with the latest lockdown.
“We went from feeding 350,000 a month to about 600,000 a month,” said Jim Floros, president and CEO of San Diego Food Bank.
Floros said he expects even more people will turn to the Food Bank in the next few weeks.
Before the pandemic, the Food Bank distributed 3 million pounds a month, he said. This year, it has distributed up to 5.8 million pounds in a single month and has distributed 42 million pounds since mid-March.
The Food Bank had held large distributions at Southwestern College, SDCCU Stadium, the Del Mar Fairgrounds and Grossmont Center, but up to 4,000 vehicles arrived when there was food for only 1,000. In response, the Food Bank created 35 “super pantries” for distribution up to three times a week around the county. Locations are online at https://sandiegofoodbank.org/get-help/.
There is simply less help available for businesses struggling to meet their payrolls.
During the first round of shutdowns, the Paycheck Protection Program and other small business lending vehicles encouraged firms to retain workers. PPP loans will be forgiven if the bulk of the money went towards payroll, rent and utilities.
This time, however, some struggling small businesses may question whether another government loan is enough to keep them afloat.
“A lot of businesses have been able to adjust with a decent amount of outdoor work,” said Callstrom. “But that can only go so far, and other businesses just can’t adjust.”
The result can be seen at the San Diego Rescue Mission, which operates a super pantry in National City.
“There’s been a lot of people showing up,” said Alan Kennedy, food services director for the mission. “We really weren’t prepared for it.
In North County, Interfaith Community Services Executive Director Greg Anglea said the nonprofit saw a 427 percent increase at its pantry in the spring.
“The increase has reduced since then, but we’re now seeing more complicated problems caused by many months out of work, challenges with childcare, and past-due rent bills greater than $10,000,” he said.
Diners at the Thanksgiving Eve meal increased from 150 to more than 360 people last month, he said.
Brent Wakefield, president and CEO of Meals on Wheels, San Diego, said food deliveries increased 47 percent just three weeks into the first lockdown. They now are delivering 2,000 meals a month, he said.
In a sad residual effect, the increase has meant volunteers have less time to spend with clients, including some shut-in seniors whose only contact with a person may have been through the daily food delivery, Wakefield said.
In response, Meals on Wheels has started a compassion call program, where volunteers phone seniors to chat a couple of days each week. Wakefield said volunteers are needed for the program, and people interested in helping can learn more by visiting www.meals-on-wheels.org.
Serving Seniors has created a similar program for volunteers to call people who are shut in during the pandemic.
Paul Downey, president and CEO of Serving Seniors, said the organization traditionally served 725,000 meals annually, but this year may serve 2 million.
John Van Cleef, executive director of the Community Resource Center in Encinitas, said the nonprofit has seen the number of people visiting its pantry increase from 50 people a day to 70.
The nonprofit also has worked with the cities of Oceanside, Carlsbad, Encinitas and Solana Beach on rental assistance programs during the pandemic.
Van Cleef said the Community Resource Center also has seen a significant increase in the number of people seeking help from domestic violence at home, which he linked to the anxiety caused by the shutdown, economic insecurity and other issues associated with the pandemic.
Ellis Rose, a homeless advocate who once was homeless himself, said the pandemic and shutdown has been hard on people on the street as well.
“This is hitting people in more ways than one,” he said, noting that the shutdown had left many people isolated from others. “It’s not just the food. It’s the social connection.”
San Diego attractions including SeaWorld, the San Diego Zoo and Safari Park and Legoland all were forced to close Monday. They said it’s still too early to discuss furloughs or layoffs.
In a statement, the San Diego Zoo and Safari Park said essential staff will stay on the job to care for animals. “We keep at the forefront of our thoughts the well-being of these dedicated employees and the many volunteers who make our parks such special places to visit. We look forward to the day we get to welcome our guests back.”
Legoland closed its Carlsbad park and aquarium, canceling planned holiday festivities including a New Year’s Eve event. The theme park’s hotel remains open, but it unclear for how long. Gov. Gavin Newsom’s stay-at-home order restricts lodging to essential infrastructure travelers.
SeaWorld San Diego also will continue employing veterinarians and animal care experts through the shutdown, said interim Chief Executive Marc Swanson in a statement. The company will extend the expiration date of annual passes, and SeaWorld Fun Cards will remain valid through 2021. Single-day ticket buyers can reschedule their visit through the end of next year.
U-T reporters Michael Freeman, Philip Molnar, Gary Robbins, Paul Sisson, Gary Warth and Jonathan Wosen contributed to this report.
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