‘We have to stand up’: San Diego businesses, leaders push back against coronavirus closures

San Diego County Supervisor Jim Desmond speaks to protesters about COVID-19 restrictions Monday.
San Diego County Supervisor Jim Desmond speaks to people protesting COVID-19 restrictions at a demonstration outside the San Diego County Administration Center on Monday.
(Sam Hodgson / San Diego Union-Tribune)

A day after San Diego County reported a record-breaking 1,087-case jump in coronavirus infections, more than 100 elected officials, business owners and residents rallied near San Diego’s waterfront Monday, demanding the county let restaurants, churches and other small businesses reopen.

San Diego County moved into the state’s most restrictive tier last week. Because of its purple designation, gyms, restaurants, churches, movie theaters and bars all had to stop in-door operations as of midnight Saturday.

On Monday afternoon, County Supervisor Jim Desmond, El Cajon Mayor Bill Wells and Coronado Mayor Richard Bailey spoke to the crowd of mostly mask-less business owners and residents, some of whom held U.S. flags and “Reopen San Diego” posters.

Desmond said hundreds of San Diegans are hurting because of the yo-yo effect of opening and closing. He said it’s unfair to punish businesses that follow sanitation protocols, when the county’s numbers show new cases are not coming from those businesses.

“This is not a choice between opening up businesses or saving lives,” Desmond said. “We can do both.”


In the unprecedented regression, San Diego County is among those that slide backward in the state’s reopening tiers Tuesday.

Some business owners have been outspoken about the negative impact of closures and the strict guidelines. Others have taken legal action to allow some businesses to reopen indoors with sanitation and social distancing protocols.

Peter San Nicolas, owner of Ramona Fitness Center, who was served with five misdemeanors for operating during the state’s shutdown orders in August, joked about the charges — and people in the crowd laughed.

San Nicolas encouraged other business owners to stand up against restrictions.

“We can’t let the government erase our dreams,” San Nicolas said. “I had a dream when I was 14 years old to buy this gym and to change people’s lives through fitness. ... We have to stand up.”

Other county officials emphasized the surge in coronavirus cases and the need to take preventive measures, such as wearing masks, keeping safe distances and limiting contact with people who don’t live in the same household.

Supervisor Greg Cox said during a separate news conference that each supervisor has different opinions, but everyone has an obligation to respect public health orders — including those put in place by the county’s public health officer.

“We certainly hope that the elected officials throughout San Diego County would realize that this is a very serious situation we find ourselves in and basically abide by those things that they were sworn in to uphold,” Cox said.

Wells urged people to resist what he called a political problem, not a medical problem.

“It’s time for the government to stop trying to criminalize people who just want to keep their businesses open, send their kids to school, protect the Constitution of the United States,” he said.

Lopez-Villafaña writes for the San Diego Union-Tribune.