San Diego Mayor Opens City Parks to Churches and Gyms to Use for Free

People keep their distance as they exercise outside of a closed La Jolla beach Wednesday, April 15, 2020, in San Diego. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)

SAN DIEGO (CN) — Calling being outdoors “a birthright for every San Diegan,” Mayor Kevin Faulconer Tuesday signed an executive order allowing churches and gyms to operate for free at one of the city’s 340 parks — the same day San Diego came off Governor Gavin Newsom’s Covid-19 watchlist.

“Being outdoors is practically a birthright for every San Diegan.  We know from public health experts being outdoors is safer than being inside a crowded environment,” Faulconer said during a press conference.

“There is no better city than San Diego to take advantage of this fact,” he added.

Faulconer’s executive order, effective Aug. 24, will waive park-use city permit fees for 60 days so churches and gyms can hold services outside.

Once the San Diego City Council returns from its August recess, Faulconer said he will bring an ordinance to permanently codify the fee waiver.

The expanded outdoor operations in San Diego comes as the city was removed from Newsom’s monitoring list. To be eligible, the county saw fewer than 100 new Covid-19 cases per 100,000 residents for more than three days in a row.

If the city maintains the threshold for 14 days, schools in the county could reopen.

But Faulconer pointed out Newsom has been mum “about what a county can or cannot do after it sheds the watchlist designation.”

Faulconer said he, along with San Diego County Supervisor Greg Cox, sent a letter to Newsom last Friday seeking expanded reopening guidance.

In a separate press conference hours later in Sacramento, Newsom said the state is planning to release specific reopening guidance for counties moving off the watchlist shortly. But unlike the state’s initial reopening that began in late May and early June, Newsom says the second wave will be much more calculated.

“We’re going to be focusing with a much deeper emphasis on the how this time, not just the when,” Newsom said.

In a daily pandemic briefing, California Health and Human Services chief Mark Ghaly said the state has begun working with San Diego and Santa Cruz counties on their reopening plans as both were removed from the watchlist this week. To the mayor’s chagrin, Ghaly did not give reporters a timeline or any specifics as to whether indoor dining or other various activities could resume in San Diego.

Ghaly said the two counties were able to drop off the list by taking a variety of measures, including widespread mask use, isolating sick residents and preventing large outbreaks at nursing homes, correctional facilities and within the agricultural industry. 

“All of those strategies are additive and together can help a specific county improve its trajectory,” Ghaly said.

The gyms and churches which take advantage of outdoor park operations must display their San Diego County Safe Reopening Plan, hold insurance naming the city of San Diego as an additional insured and have a city business tax certificate issued prior to Aug. 1.

The permits will be issued on a first-come, first-served basis for each park depending on space available.

Faulconer’s latest executive order is the third signed to take advantage of San Diego’s temperate climate to help local businesses stay open during the pandemic.         

He previously signed an executive order allowing restaurants to move operations outside and later expanded it by allowing gyms and other businesses to join them in taking over sidewalks, parking lots and city-owned parking spaces to expand open-air operations.

So far 250 businesses have been issued city permits to operate outdoors, Faulconer said Tuesday.

Not all businesses have been able to take advantage of outdoor operations, however.

Hardcore Fitness owner Krista Lombardi said it’s been difficult for her gym members to work out on hot asphalt and using a park with grass will make it easier to run workout classes.

California’s 58 counties reported 4,600 new cases, pushing the state’s nation-leading total to over 632,000 confirmed cases. Ghaly reiterated the state has worked through its testing backlog and that of the approximately 295,000 total results, around 14,800 ended up being positive Covid cases. Ghaly added he’s confident the information is accurate because the department has expanded oversight over the infectious disease clearinghouse. 

Statewide hospitalizations increased overnight by 86 patients, the first day-over-day jump in over two weeks. Ghaly said he wasn’t overly concerned with the minor increase and pointed to 14-day averages which show decreases in both hospitalizations and patients in intensive care. 

While Newsom said he’s encouraged by progress being made in some of the regions hardest hit by the pandemic, such as the Central Valley and Los Angeles, testing issues continue to plague the state.

California has continually increased its testing capacity since March, but some are still waiting a week or longer for results. Newsom claimed such delays render the testing process moot and a “waste of time.”

“We’re not where we need to be, we need to have on-demand tests,” said the governor. “A test that takes two weeks is irrelevant; there’s no real point in taking it.”

With fall approaching, Ghaly said the state has begun “aggressively planning” for the flu season by securing additional supplies and is pushing to bring on more facilities to administer the vaccine. He warned a potent flu strain could add undue stress on the state’s over 400 hospitals and urged Californians to get vaccinated.

“Together, flu and Covid make us particularly worried and have caused us to jumpstart some of that flu prep,” Ghaly said.

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